Nimble companies help keep supply chain running during pandemic

Even as the global COVID-19 pandemic redefines “normal”, the Puget Sound gateway supply chain finds ways to continue business as usual.

It’s hardly easy.

"It takes a village,” said Dustin Stoker, The Northwest Seaport Alliance’s chief operating officer. But creativity, planning and teamwork is paying off.

“In situations like this, we come together and partner across lines, across organizations, and we are willing to think outside the box,” Stoker said. “New ideas or items from a vendor get shared quickly.

“It’s that collaborative partnership that sets our gateway apart and allows us to continue to operate at a very high level.”

A 55-gallon barrel at the Port of Tacoma is a good example of how a small, nimble company can have an unexpected positive impact on the supply chain.

Shortly after the pandemic began, Chambers Bay Distillery shipped a barrel to the Port. The barrel wasn’t full of what the University Place business is best known for – bourbon, vodka and whiskey – but rather its newest product: hand sanitizer.

Alan Davis, co-owner of the distillery with Jeff Robinette, realized his company could lend a squeaky-clean helping hand by making alcohol-based cleaners. Now the distillery is providing hand sanitizers to hospitals, first responders, senior living facilities, grocery store workers and other essential businesses.

“I think it just shows why local businesses are important,” Davis said. “We can pivot on a moment’s notice to help.”

Davis said the Port of Tacoma was one of Chambers Bay Distillery’s first big customers. Not only did the Port’s sanitizer order help the company keep its lights on, but it also allowed them to order ethanol on a wholesale basis to increase hand sanitizer production.

Stoker says he hears regularly from vendors who have shifted production to help meet demand during the pandemic. He’s quick to relay the information to terminal operators, longshore partners, the trucking community and warehouse operators who might need cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

Each week, Stoker checks in with these partners to see how they are doing in terms of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. These supplies can go fast. New protocol at the Port calls for all equipment to be disinfected between shifts.

“For the most part, they’ve been able to stay 2 to 3 weeks ahead of inventory,” Stoker said.

This is due in part to the fact that small organizations are more able to adapt and respond to demand in a time when widespread shortages make cleaning and protective supplies hard to come by. “And some are servicing different areas than they did in the past,” Stoker said. “That’s really cool.”

As The Northwest Seaport Alliance — which manages the marine cargo operations at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma — looks beyond the COVID-19 crisis, Stoker says some of the changes it is making to combat the virus might be permanent. “Some of the protocol for cleaning and washing hands just might be the new normal.”

If so, they won’t have to look far for its giant barrels of hand sanitizer. Chambers Bay Distillery plans to return to bourbon production soon, but Davis says sanitizer production will likely be a permanent part of its new normal too.

Media contact: