The COVID-19 pandemic rattled industries and crippled supply chains worldwide. The results were also evident in the Lone Star State, as research by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) illustrates.
Institute experts conducted research studying the impacts of COVID-19 at the Texas–Mexico border and found that the effects of the viral outbreak were felt almost immediately.
“The public health emergency that was declared in March 2020 quickly became a supply chain emergency,” says TTI Research Scientist Juan Villa, who conducted the study with TTI colleagues Jolanda Prozzi, senior research scientist, and Chris Simek, associate research scientist. Other Institute personnel contributing to the study included Associate Transportation Researcher Jose Rivera, Research Engineering Associate Daniel Escoto and Research Specialist Carlos Silva.
“A variety of industry closures in Mexico caused major disruptions in the flow of commodities across the border into the United States,” Villa says. Automotive, defense/aerospace, electronics, personal care product and semiconductor industries were all heavily impacted, the researchers note.
After years of steady growth, imports by truck dropped to almost zero in spring 2020 at the El Paso, Hidalgo, and Laredo ports of entry before beginning to rebound in the summer. Owing significantly to the decreased density of cross-border traffic, wait times for trucks decreased substantially compared to 2019 before also rebounding in the summer. Wait times for privately owned vehicles dropped as well during quarantine, due largely to restrictions imposed on nonessential travel.
Researchers also studied the health emergency’s effects by examining the personal experience of those who operate commercial businesses in the state. In August 2020, Prozzi and Simek surveyed more than 300 establishments representing 11 industry sectors to assess how freight transportation and supply chains were affected in the Dallas and Houston areas. Their findings show that slightly more than a third of the businesses reduced their operating capacity during the pandemic, and 8 percent of those businesses closed temporarily. Three-fourths of the respondents reported capacity reduction of at least 25 percent, and almost half reported reductions of 50 percent or more. Other findings showed that of the businesses polled in the survey:
- 65 percent that reduced capacity by 50 percent or more were in the manufacturing, wholesale trade, or health care and social assistance sectors.
- 62 percent reported decreased shipping, while 21 percent saw an increase; 29 percent had shipping schedule changes, while 16 percent experienced no such changes.
- 56 percent reported decreases in shipments received, while 11 percent saw increases; 28 percent reported changes in their receiving schedule, while schedules for 15 percent were unchanged.
- Most (53 percent) of the businesses that experienced reduced outgoing shipments by half or more were in the wholesale trade industry. Most (56 percent) of those that saw reduced incoming shipments were in the manufacturing and retail trade sector.
“The data shows that Texas establishments were not immune to the global pandemic’s effects since three of every four businesses reported impacts such as reduced capacity, decreased staffing levels and/or temporary closures,” Simek says. “Consequences from the health crisis extended to the movement of goods as well.”
Ultimately, some two-thirds of the establishments saw reduced revenue in the first half of the year as a result of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has impacted many areas along the border, and many things have changed,” Prozzi says. “Some of those — like enhanced sanitation measures and supply chain disruptions — are expected to remain in place for some time.”