Local manufacturing can drive prosperity in the post-COVID era

In a recent weekly message to South Africans, President Cyril Ramaphosa noted that our recovery efforts from the devastation of the coronavirus present our country with an opportunity to “not merely return to where we were before the pandemic struck”, but instead to build a new and inclusive economy that creates employment and fosters sustainable growth. For the Beier Group, advancing local manufacturing  and prioritising local procurement are vital to making that new economy a reality.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, government had been proactive in offering incentives and assistance as part of its local manufacturing push, in addition to encouraging the nation to buy local. This has become even more critical in the months since the onset of the pandemic, especially as the coronavirus looks set to transform the global manufacturing landscape for the foreseeable future.

Like manufacturers across the globe, the Beier Group has had to pivot to adapt to a ‘new normal’ in the COVID-19 era.

The supply chain weaknesses uncovered in recent months are pushing companies all across the globe to re-shore production back to their home countries in order to mitigate vulnerable supply chains and better withstand major disruptions that may materialise in the future.

“The pandemic has shown that manufacturers who rely heavily on factories in off-shore places like China can quickly find themselves throttled when crisis strikes,” notes Beier Group CEO Wolfgang Beier. “Thanks to our long-standing strategy of localisation, we had already laid the groundwork to ensure business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic when other supply chains were disrupted.” For the Beier Group, focusing on local manufacturing is also the best route to creating manufacturing jobs at home and developing a skilled workforce. Over the last eight years alone, Beier Group companies, with assistance from the Department of Trade and Industry, have collectively invested more than R230 million into local expansions and infrastructure growth – and the group is well placed to drive these trends further as South Africa’s economic recovery accelerates into the post-COVID era.

The Beier Group’s four member companies offer products ranging from high-spec filtration and robust safety footwear to personal protective equipment, world-class medical devices and export-quality coated fabrics. 

Fighting for the substantiality of local industries is in Beier’s DNA. Back in 2014, when South Africa’s footwear manufacturing industry was teetering on the brink due to an influx of Chinese imports, Beier successfully navigated a merger with other safety footwear leaders –Bagshaw Footwear, United Fram , Bronx and Wayne – to establish its BBF Safety Group member company, effectively shoring up the industry and positioning it for enhanced profitability and growth. Today, BBF Safety Group is the largest manufacturer of safety footwear in Africa, employing over 1,200 people in four manufacturing plants across the country.

Thanks to an unwavering commitment to local production, BBF Safety Group is now the largest manufacturer of safety footwear in Africa.

“Protecting and creating jobs is imperative – we operate from a base of looking after our own communities. Now, more than ever, we have to put our people first,” notes Silvio Ceriani, BBF Safety Group CEO.

Well before the arrival of COVID-19, Beier Group had long been working to reroute its supply chains closer to home by nurturing domestic suppliers. In making its contribution to local economic empowerment, transformation and development, Beier Group companies have forged numerous mutually beneficial partnerships with local SMMEs to create a network of highly committed, professional and efficient local suppliers.

Beier Envirotec, a leading producer of technical textiles, specialised media and filtration products, has been able to shift its wool supply source from New Zealand to a fully black woman-owned SMME in the Eastern Cape.

More recently, BBF Safety Group faced a global shortage of imported nose clip and filtration components for its particle-filtering FFP2 masks. To counter this and drive localisation, BBF turned its attention to local manufacturers with the potential to deliver on these critical components. Through incentives and support offered by the government, a local supplier adapted its production to meet the specifications required, resulting in an FFP2 mask that can be locally sourced and manufactured in its entirety.

By working closely with a growing network of domestic suppliers, BBF Safety Group, a Beier member company, was able to ensure its particle-filtering masks could be produced using 100% local materials.

“We are proud of our team who worked with other South African companies to deliver on solutions that benefit us all as a country. It is testimony to the talent within our country and the potential we have to source and innovate locally, defending and, if supported, creating local jobs. It’s a great accomplishment,” says Ceriani.

In the coming weeks and months, as government, businesses and ordinary South Africans work together to steer the country on the road to recovery, our collective skills, innovation and commitment to local solutions can give shape to President Ramaphosa’s economic vision.