R.I. businesses respond to coronavirus outbreak

SOME RHODE ISLAND companies have put a ban on business travel to and from China as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. / BLOOMBERG NEWS FILE PHOTO/YIFAN DING
SOME RHODE ISLAND companies have put a ban on business travel to and from China as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. / BLOOMBERG NEWS FILE PHOTO/YIFAN DING

PROVIDENCE – As the coronavirus outbreak soars to more than 24,000 cases in China, Rhode Island businesses with ties to the country are orchestrating their international operations carefully.

FM Global, headquartered in Johnston, is not allowing employees to travel to or from China or Hong Kong, and Textron Inc., based in Providence, instituted a travel ban to China about a week ago.

Textron has 10 offices with about 1,000 employees in China, including one in Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak.

The company’s main operations in China are part of its Kautex business unit, which manufactures plastic fuel tanks for the Asian automotive industry, Textron spokesman David Sylvestre said.

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The company has hundreds of employees in China, he said.

FM Global has offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzen, along with one in Hong Kong.

The companies’ bans mirror the U.S. State Department’s Level 4 advisory cautioning against travel to China.

“It’s an evolving situation, we’re monitoring the outbreak very closely,” Sylvestre said.

Textron’s crisis management working group, tasked with heading the company’s response to the coronavirus spread, is meeting regularly, he added.

“When the outbreak was first reported, the plants had already been closed for the Chinese New Year Holiday, as is the tradition in China. The holiday shutdown was extended for two weeks, which is at the direction of the China government,” Sylvestre said via email. “At this time, our team continues to monitor the situation closely, including any China government directives regarding plant re-openings and travel within China.”

Worldwide, the virus has infected 24,554 people, as of Wednesday, an increase of more than 3,925 cases in the last 24 hours, according to the World Health Organization.

About 24,363 cases are being reported in China, along with 491 deaths.

FM Global has 60 employees in China and Hong Kong, where offices are closed until February 7. Its travel restrictions, which include travel to and from China and Hong Kong, in addition to travel within those countries, are set to last until that date as well, said the company’s spokesman, Steve Zenofsky.

“We have business continuity plans in place so our employees can work from home,” Zenofsky said.

Employees who returned from trips to China after January 1, or who have been in close contact with someone who has been exposed to the coronavirus are required to work from home for 14 days, Zenofsky said.

Textron Aviation has canceled its plans to participate in the Singapore Airshow, an international trade show for the aviation industry. Other U.S. aviation companies who have also backed out include Bombardier, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. and Gulfstream, according to news reports.

Textron’s decision to skip the show was made last week, Sylvestre said.

Hasbro, based in Providence, did not respond to requests for comment.

A significant amount of the toy company’s manufacturing takes place in China, although Hasbro’s CEO, Brian Goldner, told CNBC in August that the company hopes to move a large portion of its manufacturing out of China by 2023.

Hasbro’s goal is to cut Chinese manufacturing of products bound for the U.S. to 50% or less by the end of this year, Goldner said during the interview.

Some of the state’s manufacturers have canceled trips to China, while others with locations in the country are having employees work from home, said Rhode Island Manufacturing Association executive director David Chenevert.

“Some have put a temporary hold on any travel to China at this time,” he wrote in an email to PBN.

WaterRower, based in Warren, has a sales and service office in Xiamen, which the company closed until February 10.

Since many of the office’s dozen employees live in a village that has been quarantined, it’s not clear what will happen on the 10th, said WaterRower President and CEO Peter King.

“We are trying to get supplies to them to help with protection, but fear problems getting supplies into China,” King said in an email.

The virus outbreak is disrupting normal trade indirectly by causing vessel delays in and out of Chinese ports, said Sam Sirrico, vice president of operations at Pangaea Logistic Solutions Ltd., a shipping company based in Newport.

“We do have one vessel that is scheduled to discharge cargo in China later this month and we are closely monitoring the situation, but as of today we are not seeing any delays to the ship’s schedule,” he said in an email.

The companies do not frequently send employees to China, he added.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Graham@PBN.com.

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