Q: When the impact from the pandemic started to hit in March and April, what did you do to touch base with manufacturers and employers in Cherokee County?
A: We quickly reached out to every industrial company in the county. We gave them every bit of information we had to help them weather the storm.
Q: What were their initial concerns and were you able to help address them? Have you seen those evolve over the last six months?
A: Most companies were interested in the process to be deemed essential if the governor decided to close down manufacturing. As time went by, concerns turned to unemployment compensations. An overwhelming number of employers had trouble getting employees to come back due to the extra $600 a week people were receiving on unemployment. They were also concerned with the lack of support they received from DEW Unemployment. Companies were reaching out for help to get people to come back to work, but the DEW system was overwhelmed, and appeals were taking months. Many employers were frustrated as they felt the DEW was not being responsive.
Q: Have there been any issues that were a major surprise?
A: The major issue we experienced in Cherokee County concerned unemployment.
Q: Have you continued to be in-touch with your employers? How important has communications been during this time?
A: Yes, we continually contact employers to ensure they are doing well. Communications have been very important to ensure timely and quality information is given to employers. So far, we have had an accurate assessment on the impacts.
Q: Like in most counties, the unemployment rate in Cherokee County rapidly increased at the start of the pandemic. What is being done in the county to get people back to work?
A: Cherokee County unemployment numbers were so high because of retail and restaurants. Cherokee is a small rural county has an unusually large about of both. The number came down significantly once the restaurants and small retail stores were allowed to open.
Q: There has been discussion about companies wanting to bring manufacturing, especially related to PPE and medical devices, back to the US to reduce supply chain issues. Have you seen an uptick in interest for manufacturers potentially coming to Cherokee County?
A: Cherokee County manufacturing pivoted and many started to produce PPE. Carolina Cotton Works, Parkdale Mills, Wedel Fabrics and Hamrick Mills to name a few. I believe we will continue to see an uptick in production from existing industries.
Q: Are there any issues that you knew needed to be addressed before the pandemic that have been magnified by the pandemic? If so, what are they and are there opportunities for addressing them now?
A: Before the pandemic, an issue that needed to be addressed in our county was workforce training. Once the pandemic hit, a lot of untrained/unskilled workers for retail and service tried to move into manufacturing and warehousing. None had training which caused more issues for industries.
Q: Are there adjustments you have seen employers in Cherokee County make during the pandemic that you think will continue long-term?
A: The pivot to making PPE is one of the adjustments that we foresee continuing into the long-term. Also, many industries here have increased their pay during this time to give pandemic raises of $2-$3 more per hour. The industry is realizing that they get better quality employees when their wages are aligned with the growing industrial base.
Q: Are there any “silver lining” impacts from the pandemic that you think will turn out to be a positive for Cherokee County in the long-term?
A: There are no foreseen “silver lining” impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic that will turn out to be a positive for Cherokee County in the long term.