Vermont manufacturers return to work but future uncertain

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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) Prior to COVID-19, about 60,000 Vermonters worked in the manufacturing, construction and distribution sectors. Monday, they were all allowed to go back to work if they still had jobs and their companies followed rules intended to reduce exposure to the virus.

Our Ike Bendavid went to EuroTech in Williston, a small manufacturer not yet ready to call back its entire workforce. EuroTech is happy to be back in business but there are still lots of questions about what their future will look like.

After complying with the governor's stay-at-home order for nearly two months, EuroTech in Williston is back in business.

"We have capacity. We can take work immediately," said Velid Dozic, the owner of EuroTech.

The company does engineering and precision machining for the oil and gas industry, as well as the medical field. But when they were forced to close, the bills didn't stop coming.

Dozic says they used their savings to keep the lights on and they haven't heard back about the PPP loans they applied for to help during the shutdown.

"It's a huge loss. We have overhead. We have bills we have to pay," Dozic said.

On the first day back, they are reaching out to potential customers but they know turning the key to come back is easier said than done.

"It's definitely exciting to be doing this again," Dozic said. "But also the question is always in my head-- how quickly will we start making money?"

As manufacturers like EuroTech open around the state, some have had a little bit of a head start at getting back to work.

Darn Tough Socks shut down their operation in March but quickly reopened after they were deemed essential so they could resume work on their contracts to make socks for the military and law enforcement.

Now, they are trying to figure out how to again make socks for the rest of us.

"Now, we are starting to slowly get back to regular operations," said Brooke Kaplan of Darn Tough.

Darn Tough says they furloughed 75% of their workforce-- that's about 250 employees. Now, they are bringing more back to the production floor each week.

"We want to do it safely and we also want to get back and running and producing socks in the best possible way we can," Kaplan said.

That includes starting their third shift on Sunday night for the first time in two months-- taking everyone's temperature, wearing masks and spacing out workers as they churn out socks.

Darn Tough is also trying to assess what this all means for their bottom line.

"It slowed down for sure-- we are with everyone else. We're trying to understand what's going on, then come back smartly," Kaplan said.

At EuroTech, they are working with a skeleton crew of two and hoping to hire their full-time staff of eight as soon as business picks up.