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Local companies, global problems: How Tampa Bay tackled the supply chain

Small businesses got creative to guide their workforces through worldwide challenges of supply and demand.
Warehouse logistics manager Charles Woods receives inventory on March 3 in the raw materials warehouse at FACTS engineering’s 60,000-square foot design, engineering and manufacturing facility in New Port Richey.
Warehouse logistics manager Charles Woods receives inventory on March 3 in the raw materials warehouse at FACTS engineering’s 60,000-square foot design, engineering and manufacturing facility in New Port Richey. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Mar. 25

For Ron McVety, the supply-chain slowdown of 2021 wasn’t just a series of TV images of empty store shelves and ships backed up off the California coast.

It was a real threat to his New Port Richey business.

“Our company’s 35 years old, and we’ve never seen anything like it,” said the CEO of Facts Engineering. “Nobody I know in this industry has ever seen anything like it.”

Facts Engineering, which has just over 50 employees, was among the small businesses most reliant on the supply chain in this year’s Top Workplaces rankings. The company manufactures and distributes products used in automation in factories and other facilities “where a consumer product wouldn’t work, but a military product would be overkill,” McVety said.

Facts imports both raw materials and finished goods for manufacture and assembly in Tampa Bay, including circuit boards that came into short supply during the pandemic. Had it not acted early, it might be in trouble today.

“When COVID-19 first started in March of 2020, a lot of companies were laying off; everybody was really concerned when demand for products went down,” McVety said. “We said we’re not laying anybody off. We’re a critical company to maintain the fight against COVID because our products are used in power plants, dam automation, a lot of food processing. People are making toilet paper. So we’re not going to lay anybody off.”

Product manager Trang Nguyen tests relay modules on March 3 at Facts Engineering’s 60,000-square foot design, engineering and manufacturing facility in New Port Richey.
Product manager Trang Nguyen tests relay modules on March 3 at Facts Engineering’s 60,000-square foot design, engineering and manufacturing facility in New Port Richey. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Facts kept ordering and stockpiling inventory beyond their target for the year. McVety’s philosophy: “Just build everything we can,” he said. “We want to keep everybody busy, and want everybody to keep their jobs.”

To do that, small businesses had to act quickly. When he started seeing potential signs of a slowdown, Jim Rapp, founder of fellow Top Workplaces honoree Precision Garage Door of Tampa Bay, “took several million dollars and increased our inventory so I had enough inventory for the next six months to a year,” Rapp said.

“I had to buy two other buildings to put it in,” he said. “I had to dig pretty deep into my personal wallet to make sure we never run out of parts. But everybody else has run out of parts. Our competitors, unfortunately, didn’t have the resources or the inclination to do it.”

McVety and Facts made a few switches to keep a steady stream of products in stock, such as switching delivery of some products from ships to UPS. The cost was expensive, he said, “but we’re getting it much faster, and it’s more reliable than boats.”

Design Engineer Aaron Flatley works on the redesign of a productivity input output base used to manage power supplies and relay modules in automation systems on March 3 at Facts Engineering in New Port Richey.
Design Engineer Aaron Flatley works on the redesign of a productivity input output base used to manage power supplies and relay modules in automation systems on March 3 at Facts Engineering in New Port Richey. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
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One thing McVety tried not to do was pass that added cost onto his workforce. Just as the cost of doing business was rising all over the world, he could see prices rising at grocery stores and gas pumps. So Facts gave all employees a 5 percent raise, in addition to swallowing a 12 percent rise in the cost of health care for all employees and their families.

But not everything that helped get Facts through the supply chain crisis happened last year.

A few years ago, Facts implemented new leadership training programs designed to make employees feel they were part of an “owner-independent company” — a place where teams could work to solve problems together from the ground up, rather than the top down. A place where “you don’t want any single person to be a point of failure,” McVety said.

That training, he said, paid off during what might otherwise be a supremely stressful time, between a lack of product availability and a rise in demand from customers. And it happened years before the pandemic even started.

“The best thing I can say is, one of our senior engineers said, ‘I feel like I’m getting twice the work done in half the time with no stress,’” McVety said. “That sounds like a miracle pill, but it really works. I think it’s one of the reasons we have such a resilient workforce. And I think it’s the reason we didn’t lose anybody during this period of time.”

Product manager Dario Hanna works on RMA repairs on relay modules on March 3 at Facts Engineering in New Port Richey.
Product manager Dario Hanna works on RMA repairs on relay modules on March 3 at Facts Engineering in New Port Richey. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
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