Supply and labor shortages still evident across NC

As NC families try to resume “normal” school, sports and work schedules, many businesses and restaurants are still struggling to stock shelves and hire workers

Back-to-school supplies await shoppers at a store in Marlborough, Mass., in this Saturday, July 11, 2020, file photo. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File)

RALEIGH — Summer is winding down, which means it’s time to go back to school. Unfortunately, teachers, parents, and students say they are already feeling the effects of certain product shortages related to the lingering impacts of COVID-19. The global supply chain is an intricate web consisting of container ships, airplanes, trucks and trains, but the pandemic disrupted the entire system, which means those at the end of the chain — consumers — are facing a longer wait for basic items and fewer options overall.

While North Carolina-based businesses are responsible for many of local products we love and know well, their actual supply chains span thousands of miles across continents and oceans. Area business owners still say they have the best-case scenario on the demand side and the worst-case on the supply-chain side with supply bottlenecks, especially at ports, continuing to delay products of all kinds.

Here at home, the scarcities are affecting everything from ketchup packets, to paper products, to hot wings, to school uniforms, to certain recreational distractions like popular video consoles, Xbox and Play Station 5. There is also a severe labor shortage rippling through the local hospitality industry as well as certain local school districts. Certain area pools had to cut back their operating hours at the end of the summer based on an inability to keep enough lifeguards and food service workers on staff. Wake County Public School System reports having 206 in-person teacher positions open. County leaders say they are working hard to fill them by recruiting from local colleges and offering hiring bonuses. Yet the county also reports having 151 general teacher openings with a vacancy rate at 1.5%. There are 55 special education teaching positions and 130 Virtual Academy teaching positions also open. Officials say they desperately need instructional assistants too with 103 regular vacancies and 184 Special Education vacancies.

Andy Ellen of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association explains, “Retailers are doing a very good job trying to manage their inventory but are also experiencing supply chain issues with certain products such as products containing plastic or aluminum that can range from fishing lures to spices due to the thin piece of aluminum that seals the bottle. Also, items that require semiconductor chips or multiple component parts including automobiles and appliances are in short supply as is furniture. A shortage of shipping containers is also driving up the cost of shipping dramatically which ultimately gets passed onto the consumer.”

In addition to this retail news, most restaurant patrons are aware of the current chicken shortage. Since the spring, local restaurants have been reporting disruptions in the supply and processing of chicken products, affecting fan favorites like Bojangles Chicken Supremes, Durham-based Zweli’s spicy chicken, and the wings at Moe’s BBQ in the greater Charlotte area. The price of chicken wings increased 100 percent in this timeframe, forcing many local business owners to totally remove wings from their menus or skimp on quality. The chain-restaurant East Coast Wings and Grill e-mailed customers saying there’s was a manufacturing crunch and apologized for selling wings outside its “specs.” Officials with the North Carolina Poultry Federation admit it’s a result of supply chain issues caused by the lingering pandemic as well as certain bad weather events that have impacted the Gulf Coast region.

A lumber shortage is still rippling across the national and local economies though perhaps to a lesser extent than at the start of the pandemic. Lumber prices hit an all-time high back in May of $1,686 per thousand board feet, an increase of 406% from the $333 it was trading at the same time last year. As a result, the price of a new single-family home has increased by nearly $36,000, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

North Carolina State University Professor Robert Bardon, who teaches forestry and environmental resources and is the associate dean for extension at the College of Natural Resources, says lumber is particularly important to the state’s local economy. “The production of lumber is important to North Carolina’s economy, in that lumber production is part of the forest sector, which is a major contributor to North Carolina’s economic well-being. In 2019, the forest sector in North Carolina contributed $34.9 billion in industry output to the North Carolina economy, supporting more than 148,000 full-time and part-time jobs with a payroll of about $8.4 billion. The forest sector continues to be the top employer among manufacturing sectors in the state.”

As disappointing as these various shortages are, there is also some good news. Families can celebrate the back-to-school season in the form of a variety of neat gadgets and innovations to excited kids of all ages. Whether they’re heading back to the classroom, or moving into a dorm, this is the stuff tech experts say students will want:

  • Lenovo Smart Clock, Google-powered alarm clock, $49 AT WALMART.
  • TCL 4 Series, A cheap but good basic smart TV, $334 AT BEST BUY.
  • Roku Streaming Stick Plus, The ultimate streaming video accessory, $39 AT AMAZON.
  • Stitch Fix gift card, Curated wardrobe, SEE AT STITCH FIX.
  • HelloFresh meal kit delivery service, Meal plan upgrade, SEE AT HELLOFRESH.
  • Apple MacBook Air M1, Best Mac for students, $999 AT APPLE EDUCATION.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga, Top-notch Windows 2-in-1, $1,330 AT LENOVO.
  • Google Nest Wifi Mesh Router, Wall-to-wall wireless, $257 AT AMAZON.
  • Hyperlite face mask (5-pack) ,­Personal protection, $20 AT HYPERLITE.
  • Jabra Elite 75t, Excellent earbuds, $150 AT AMAZON.
  • AmazonBasics Microwave, Dorm-friendly microwave, $75 AT AMAZON.
  • Instant Pot, Do-it-all pressure cooker, $100 AT TARGET.
  • Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System coffee maker, Your own personal Starbucks, $194 AT AMAZON.
  • Hydro Flask, The Lexus of water bottles, $36 AT AMAZON.
  • Burton Spruce 26L Backpack, The ultimate backpack for campus and beyond, $129 AT AMAZON.
  • Rocketbook Fusion notebook and planner, For anyone who still loves pen and paper, $35 AT AMAZON.