For Brooklyn manufacturers, reopening is a complex process
As factories, warehouses and other industrial facilities reopen across Brooklyn and the city as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Phase One,” the process is not necessarily speedy or painless.
Employers worry about financing, whether there is still a demand for their products, whether all their employees will come back, and whether they’ll have to reconfigure factory floors to accommodate new social distancing requirements.
In Brooklyn, industrial facilities are mainly concentrated in Sunset Park, Red Hook, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and in Greenpoint-Williamsburg.
At the Brooklyn Army Terminal, a city-managed business incubator and manufacturing hub in Sunset Park, for example, the NYC Economic Development Corp. has posted social distancing markers in elevators, has reconfigured common area seating, and has installed signs provided by the Department of Health.
Management also wipes down “high touch point” areas hourly, requires masks for entry and has installed hand sanitizer stations in lobbies, elevator banks and other high-volume areas, according to the city agency.
At Newlab, a high-tech company at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, workers can wear an optional sensor that flashes and vibrates when a worker gets closer than the required 6-foot distance from another person.
Leah Archibald, executive director of Evergreen, a membership organization for manufacturing, creative production and industrial-service businesses in North Brooklyn, told the Brooklyn Eagle that some businesses may not know where to get precise information about social-distancing, sanitizing and other requirements.
She added that while employees of office-based businesses can choose to work from home with few problems, most employees of factories and warehouses have to be on the floor. This can be a problem if, for example, one of the workers still feels uncomfortable about taking the subway.
North Brooklyn in particular, she said, is home to many woodworking and metalworking firms who produce non-essential items, such as cabinets for a co-op apartment or railings for a bar, “on spec.” It’s unclear whether demand for these items will rebound.
All in all, she said, businesses are “cautiously optimistic.”
Ben Margolis is executive director of the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corp., a similar organization, based in Sunset Park and Red Hook, that assists firms with advice, financing, job growth and more.
He said that even though Phase One started on Monday, not all firms started up immediately — for some, it may take much longer to get ready. Some companies, for example, may find it a challenge to access hand sanitizer and other equipment, and will have to reconfigure their entire factory floors.
He stressed that not all industrial firms were closed during the coronavirus epidemic. For example, some garment firms were able to re-tool and make masks and other personal protective equipment, and thus were classified as “essential.”
“The Red Hook Container Terminal was always considered essential,” he said, “and served as a lifeline, getting food, supplies and medical equipment into the area, going above and beyond.”
As far as employees are concerned, one potential problem, he said, was that “Some older workers who are very skilled and are near retirement age may decide, ‘I don’t want to make that long trip from the Bronx, I’m going to retire.’”
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