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ECONOMY | 04-05-2020 12:58

Local firms reinvent themselves to survive coronavirus pandemic

Thousands of companies across Argentina have been left paralysed by the coronavirus pandemic. Many are reinventing themselves during the crisis as they vie to keep their firms afloat.

When Verónica stopped receiving orders at her design company, she knew she had to reinvent her firm, if it was going to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

From designing sets for high-end stores in Buenos Aires, she is now manufacturing coronavirus protective plastic faceguards as a lifeline.

In her home, which has been turned into an improvised workshop during the mandatory quarantine period that began on March 20 in Argentina, hundreds of plastic screens are piled up on a table in the family room.

"Before the quarantine we were in the middle of the season because we worked with clothing brands and we were in the changeover" for the autumn-winter season, Verónica Acevedo, a graphic designer and plastic artist, tells AFP.

Her husband and her two children, aged 14 and 20, help her produce the plastic protective guards. The design came about in a hurry when her thriving firm, which has been going for 15 years, stopped receiving orders overnight.

"Everything started to be blocked, the employees had to stop coming and we were left waiting," says Verónica, recalling the first few days of of the nationwide lockdown. 

"First there was 15 days – in those 15 days we did not get paid for the work we had already done. We thought '15 days, I can hold out,' but the quarantine was extended and that's when the nervousness kicked in," said the entrepreneur.

Her situation is similar to that of thousands of companies in Argentina, which have been left paralysed. Not knowing when they'll be allowed to return to work, the firms were already suffering after two years of recession. Now, they're awaiting the government's multi-billion-peso aid package, which is in the works of the banking system.

According to a survey by the Aragón y Asociados consultancy firm, at least 50 percent of independent and self-employed professionals say they are losing a significant part or all of their income because of the restrictions. Fear of not being able to pay for daily expenses tops the list of their concerns (62 percent), according to the recent survey.

Times are hard. Argentina's economy has been in recession since 2018, with inflation coming at over more than 50 percent last year. GDP contracted by 2.1 percent in 2019 and is predicted to contract by at least six percent this year.

According the poll, seven percent of companies, like Veronica's, have found ways to reinvent themselves in the crisis and keep their firms afloat – from textile companies that are churning out face masks to industrial producers that have switched from making farm pens to manufacturing hospital beds .

‘Safe’

As if she were living in a self-fulfilling prophecy, Verónica could not have chosen a better brand name for her product: 'A Salvo.'

From the time it took to make the moulds to shipping their the first order, only days passed. The family began selling between 20 and 30 masks a day and are now being asked to quote prices for 5,000 units. 

"For now, this work helps us to survive, to keep our head out of the water," explains Verónica, who doubts that she can recover "the life of before.”

She knows that this is a temporary economic solution, but she is sticking firmly to the present for now.

"The truth is that I'm learning not to expect anything, but to get through this moment. Every time I think about what's going to happen, I get very anxious, I prefer to go day by day and put up with [the] uncertainty," she says of her state of mind.

There are versions of Verónica's tale all over Argentina.

Take Farmquip, a company that manufactures cattle pens. which reoriented its sheet metal workshop in a site constructing hospital beds. The Santa Fe-based company, which employs more than 50 workers, is also gearing up production.

In Tucumán meanwhile, one shoe factory is now using its raw materials to make face masks and coverings. While its five stores have closed, workers are now hoping to bring in enough income to tide over the company and keep them going.

"I think the issue of change is a matter of subsistence," reflects Verónica.

"Anyone who needs to generate an income for their family or for themselves, seeing themselves on the edge of the abyss, does," she says.

"Human beings are like that, they adapt to change."

by Sonia Avalos & Magali Cervantes, Agence France-Presse

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