Businesses across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo are struggling to fill shelves and keep warehouses stocked as they brace for more potential supply chain disruptions caused by flooding in B.C. The ongoing global shortage of semiconductors is also delaying the manufacturing of electronics and vehicles.
Dianna de Sousa, executive director of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, says the supply chain shortage is driving inflation and is having a particularly hard impact on the construction industry. De Sousa argues solutions to supply chain disruptions will need provincial, federal and global attention.
“It’s been sending up the price of construction and labour. They’re also having to delay the timelines," she said. Construction companies that are part of the chamber have told her projects, such as insulation, are costing hundreds of dollars more.
Gene Dobie, the owner of general contracting company Genron Enterprises, said the average wait for structural steel is 30 weeks, double what it was before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In one case, it took a month to find specialized steel beams for a client. Dobie was able to find them in the U.S. and by the time the client agreed on the increased cost, they had been sold.
Some supplies for doors—such as hinges or weather stripping—also arrive in Canada from ports along the west coast. Those materials don't appear to be suffering from shortages, but Dobie is waiting to see if that changes as existing supplies are sold.
“There just isn’t enough inventory out there," he said. “The fire marshal is not going to accept the fire door without the closer and right exit product on there. We’re not at that point here but it could be a problem until they get some of the highways fixed.”
Supply chain issues have been a regular problem throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Early government restrictions at border crossings slowed or temporarily stopped the flow of raw materials and finished products, such as lumber and electronics.
B.C.’s transportation minister said about 130 kms of Highway 5, the main route connecting Vancouver to Kamloops, was damaged or destroyed during storms between Nov. 13 and 15. Repairs to damaged and blocked roads and railways could take weeks or months. Many trucks leaving Vancouver ports are being re-routed around the damage by taking longer journeys through the U.S.
Supply shortages are not the only problems facing businesses these days. The Bank of Canada reports 64 per cent of the nation's businesses can’t find enough workers, even though the CERB and CRB programs have ended. Many respondents plan to increase wages to attract and retain more employees.
Meanwhile, a September report found one-third of local businesses are struggling to find and keep workers, particularly in the construction and restaurant industries. The Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce is also planning job fairs in and outside the region. A committee has been formed to address local problems with hiring and keeping workers.
"Understanding, advocating and education: that is where our role is," said Dianna.
Jenna Hamilton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today