Make no mistake about it. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a disaster of epic proportions, a health crisis that caused an economic crisis. In June, there were 15 milllion fewer jobs than before the virus started spreading, while U.S. economic output may have declined by an alarming 30% annualized clip in the second quarter, according to Tom Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. Perhaps the hardest-hit sector was the leisure and hospitality industry, where employment fell by 28% even as government relief kept many workers on the job longer than would have been possible otherwise, the Fed official said.
Still, there’s something nearly magical about how some business leaders manage through the gloom and thrive in the midst of disaster. That has happened in this terrible pandemic, which caught much of the world by surprise.
The following pages spotlight six North Carolina companies that have performed well in this challenging period. Some success involves simply being in the right place at the right time.
Stuck at home and unable to travel, some families have invested in swimming pools and boats and spent more time on the internet and playing video games, creating upticks for Pool Builders Supply, Albemarle Boats, Bandwidth and Epic Games. Demand for cleanliness has spurred growth at Enviro-Master.
Some large, stable businesses are skilled at seizing opportunities when the chips are down. Parkdale Mills, which has a century-old textile manufacturing history, landed some huge federal contracts to help the health care industry fight the coronavirus. Dozens of other N.C. companies made similar pivots.
At midsummer, the economic impact of the coronavirus appeared dependent on how long it takes pharmaceutical researchers to develop effective vaccines or therapeutic treatments, Barkin told the Charlotte Rotary Club on July 14. “The health of the economy is all about confidence,” he said, citing a national survey of chief financial officers at large companies that showed declining optimism. The CFOs doubt that U.S. employment will reach pre-crisis levels until the end of 2021, he said.
Unprecedented federal stimulus programs and a reluctance to venture out and spend helped push the U.S. savings rate to a remarkable 23% in May, versus a typical level of 7% or 8%, Barkin said. “There’s a lot of money in people’s pockets once confidence returns.”
Meanwhile, these six companies aren’t waiting around for good times to restart.