“Inflation is real.” Bigelow Tea president and CEO Cindi Bigelow does not mince words when describing the challenges she and countless other business leaders currently face.
Bigelow spoke with Alexandra Castillo, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, during the Department of Economic and Community Development’s Dec. 2 economic summit in Hartford.
The two discussed the need for planning and collaboration to address supply chain, labor shortage, and inflation challenges.
Bigelow spoke about some of the real world challenges her company is facing regarding “distribution, sourcing, increased costs, and labor.”
She said the Fairfield-based manufacturer has dealt with shipping container prices jumping from $3,000 to $20,000, insurance costs increasing 60%-70%, and a situation with a company that supplies a very specific requesting an additional $1 million.
“Of course, I had no choice. So I said ‘okay, where do we send the check?’” Bigelow said.
Castillo called the soaring prices of goods and commodities "a top of top priority" for the Biden administration.
“What businesses need the most is predictability,” she said.
She explained some of the efforts the federal government has made so far, including 24/7 operations by ports and expediting delivery from railroads to distribution centers.
In addition, she emphasized the importance of the recently passed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will help accelerate the delivery of materials to businesses.
The two also looked beyond COVID-19’s impact on the supply chain, and discussed how it has impacted society overall.
Bigelow said businesses like Bigelow Tea have an increased focus on equity issues, and asked how to “make sure we’re doing the right work” related to that perspective.
Castillo described grants introduced under the American Rescue Plan Act as designed to “create opportunity from the bottom up, but also create collaboration and partnership” between the public sector and private sector.
“People are hungry to do things that are collaborative,” Castillo said, “and we need to have much more capital to make sure these great ideas are funded.
“We are living in truly historic moments, but right now we have the opportunity to truly be the architects of that future.
“At the end of the day, what we want is to be globally competitive.”
Bigelow also asked Castillo about the rise of tech hubs, and how they can help all kinds of companies, including “a tea business in Southwest Connecticut."
“Tech hubs are coming down the pike” in the pending federal Build Back Better bill, Castillo said.
She said the government is working on taking current technology and “start to commercialize it, so that companies like Bigelow Tea can start to take advantage and start to incorporate it.
“It also is a fabulous opportunity for small businesses who are going to go into those technologies of the future," she said.
'All Hands on Deck'
The conversation closed out with a discussion on different sectors working together to strengthen the state's economic recovery.
“We want to see Connecticut be the best state it can be. We want to see Connecticut be successful,” Bigelow said.
“How do we work together to achieve a common goal of a successful future that includes everyone?”
Castillo drove home the point that the infrastructure bill is going to be a major boon for the wellbeing of Connecticut, and emphasized that organizations from all sectors, including the public and private sector, universities, and nonprofits, need to work together.
“We need all hands on deck right now,” Castillo said, “and we are here to be partners with you.
“What’s at stake is just too large for us to do it alone.”