After terrorizing Haiti, Cuba and the southeastern US over the course of a week in early October, Hurricane Matthew finally turned out to sea—but eastern North Carolina was far from safe or secure. Rivers crested over the next five days, causing catastrophic flooding and sending displaced residents of Johnston, Cumberland, Sampson, Harnett, and other low-lying counties scrambling for higher ground. Their Robeson County neighbors quickly responded, gathering donations of food and supplies, as well as pallets to ship them on. There was a crucial component missing, though—large boxes to pack the donations in.

Robeson County Economic Developer Greg Cummings tapped into the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP) for help; surely someone within NCMEP’s large network of manufacturers and advocates would know how to find the particular resource that Cummings was searching for. He called the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), an NCMEP partner, and got in touch with industry specialist Teddy Warner. Cummings told Warner that although Robeson County wanted to help, it needed its own help with packaging its donations. Warner’s colleague Holly Yanker at Business Link NC took over from there. She often uses MNC, a database of NC-manufactured items, administered by NC State Industry Expansion Solutions—another NCMEP partner—to locate needed items; she consulted the database and determined that the large, pallet-sized cardboard boxes are called “Gaylords.” Yanker wondered if there was a way to get the boxes without paying retail price for them—perhaps a company like Goodwill Industries, that uses many of these boxes, could help them find a cost-effective solution. When she followed up with Goodwill’s corporate headquarters in Greensboro, they directed her to a company called Discount Box & Pallet, which sells Gaylords at a discounted $16 per box.

Yanker wondered if she could find the boxes for even less. One of her co-workers, Kris Allsbury, piped up—her husband had once been the plant manager of an injection molding firm that received all of its materials in Gaylord boxes.  In fact, Allsbury said, all of the kids in her neighborhood had clubhouses made out of these huge boxes, because her husband always had so many left over.

Yanker, using the MNC database, started calling around to plastic injection companies and ended up striking gold with Greensboro-based American Extruded Plastics and Injection Molding.  They were happy to donate the extra ten Gaylords they had on hand.   Yanker also called H&R Custom Injection Molding, Inc. in Monroe.  Although they didn’t currently have any extra boxes to share, the plant manager was delighted to learn from Yanker about the competitive prices offered by Discount Box & Pallet Company on Gaylords, again a connection found through MNC.  

Much-needed products and supplies, packed safely in donated Gaylord boxes, will soon be on their way to Robeson County flood victims.  It was certainly a nontraditional demonstration of the power of networking and localizing the supply chain, but an effective one—and one much appreciated by those struggling to recover.