Suez Canal incident creates another hurdle for businesses, York County leaders say

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
This satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, Sunday, March 28, 2021. Two additional tugboats sped Sunday to Egypt's Suez Canal to aid efforts to free a skyscraper-sized container ship wedged for days across the crucial waterway, even as major shippers increasingly divert their boats out of fear the vessel may take even longer to free. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

For builders and manufacturers in York County, a ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days has been yet another hurdle to deal with in a difficult year.

A colossal container ship wedged itself into the sandy bank of the Suez Canal on March 23, blocking passage for cargo and trade ships and halting billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce, according to The Associated Press.

The Ever Given was freed on Monday, but some business leaders are looking into the effect the incident had on shipping and trade in light of the pandemic and other events. Before the canal blockage, businesses grappled with the Texas winter storm that caused more supply disruptions. And before that, the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the supply chain.

"It's just another unforeseen challenge for the global economy," said Tom Palisin, the executive director of The Manufacturers’ Association.

Palisin's nonprofit, with over 380 members, is the region's industry trade group, and it recently moved to Manchester Township.

He said that manufacturing in York County has yet to feel any consequential effects of the Suez Canal blockage.

The Ever Given is seen from one of the tugboats accompanying it Monday as it moves in the Suez Canal in Egypt. Salvage teams set the colossal container ship free after it had gotten stuck and clogged one of the world’s most vital maritime arteries.

"For the U.S., a lot of our product comes from the West Coast and from Europe — the Suez might not be an immediate thing," Palisin said. "Members have not alerted to any specific delays at this point."

While nothing has yet immediately affected York County, Palisin said, the Suez situation is "yet another interruption suppliers have to deal with."

From the perspective of a York County construction company, the added constraints of the Suez Canal blockage could further delay already exhausting shortages and disruptions of materials, according to Kevin Schreiber, the CEO and president of the York County Economic Alliance.

"There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and then the canal situation happens," Schreiber said. "It equates to a kick when you're down, when you're trying to get back up."

Officials have said any economic impacts on York County are likely to be minimal. 

"It kind of remains to be seen what ripple effects this will have on the York economy," Schreiber said. "I'm sure that there's somewhat of a delayed reaction that can be felt."

More:150% increase: Soaring lumber costs hitting York County builders

Since the pandemic started in 2020, costs for construction materials like lumber and steel have skyrocketed. 

Additionally, contractors have incurred price increases on other building materials due to an uptick in demand and delayed shipping times, according to Ken Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.

He agreed that any effects of the Suez Canal on U.S. construction would be indirect and minimal. 

"I don't believe U.S. construction receives many goods from Asia via the Suez Canal," Simonson said via email. "If a European manufacturer couldn't get the raw materials or components it needed, or couldn't get hold of a container or space on a ship, its products would be delayed getting to the U.S."

As of Tuesday, however, he hadn't heard of any reports like that.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.