DICKSON, Tenn.—"Someone has to light the furnace."
While many companies in non-essential rubber and associated industries temporarily have been shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the largest suppliers of zinc oxide in North America continues its operations amidst market uncertainty and concern for the health of its 130 employees.
Zochem L.L.C. said it is producing the compound—a raw material that is essential to an incredible array of industries—at full capacity at its two sites in Brampton, Ontario, and Dickson, even though a majority of its employees now are working from home.
But not everyone.
"We have daily meetings, checking in with our team and their morale," said Ed Smith, vice president of sales and marketing and co-owner of Zochem. "The vast majority of our employees are working from home, but someone has to light the furnace. You can't run a plant from home completely.
"Those running the furnaces and who work in testing and packaging have to work. But we train weekly on what to do, and no one in our plants has come down with the virus."
Smith said no layoffs or slowdowns have occurred at Zochem, and none are planned. The company has enacted safety policies that mirror federal and state regulations, as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Policies include social distancing at work, wearing protective gear, eliminating outsider visits and non-essential business travel, and telecommuting when possible for staff workers, Smith said. In addition, the company is versed in proper hygiene and respiratory protection, policies that have become more robust since the pandemic, Smith said.
"And following that, we commit to doing our part to help keep America running," Smith said.
The zinc industry comprises a complex web of production, processing and end-use manufacturing, Smith said, and as such Zochem said it will look to balance a downward trend in the tire industry with upticks in agriculture, packaging and medical markets.
Smith said Zochem has been able to maintain a solid financial bottom line thus far during the pandemic by keeping debt levels down and managing inventory of its raw materials.
But uncertainties abound.