Coronavirus impacting study abroad programs, local economy

Photo of Sonja Johnson and Paul Isely
Sonja Johnson, executive director of the Van Andel Global Trade Center, and Paul Isely, associate dean and professor of economics.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Grand Valley's Padnos International Center has canceled this semester's study abroad programs in South Korea due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) and asked one student currently there to return to the U.S. soon.

Michael Vrooman, interim chief international officer, said there are not any faculty-led programs to China, Italy, Japan or South Korea planned for the spring/summer semester.

Earlier in February, PIC suspended its programs to China for the winter and spring/summer semesters. One student had planned to go to China and found an alternative program.

PIC staff members have connected with students who are abroad regarding precautions they should take if they are in a country where a virus outbreak has been reported. PIC also continues to monitor updates from the Centers for Disease Control and travel advisories from the U.S. Department of State.

Grand Valley Family Health Center and the Metro Health Campus Health Center have implemented additional screening for anyone who has recently traveled internationally. Students who are worried about family or friends abroad can connect with staff members at the University Counseling Center; faculty and staff members can contact Encompass, the employee assistance program.

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The worldwide spread of the virus is also affecting the West Michigan economy, specifically the transportation and manufacturing sectors.

Paul Isely, associate dean and professor of economics in the Seidman College of Business, said West Michigan has already been experiencing a slowdown in manufacturing because of trade tensions, and effects from the coronavirus will cause that slowdown to accelerate. 

"About 50 percent of the supply chain going to China has really slowed down or gone away," said Isely. "We will continue to see manufacturing slow down and that will start bleeding out into the rest of the economy."

Isely said in another three or four weeks, U.S factories will start using up their backlog of parts and that will mean more closings or reduced shifts, which will impact production.

"As we get another four weeks out, if we still have travel bans, it will really start to bite," said Isely. "We are starting to see disruptions in Europe and South Korea, which have very strong ties to the U.S. economy."

Sonja Johnson, executive director of the Van Andel Global Trade Center, said many local manufacturers are experiencing a slow startup throughout direct and indirect supply chains because suppliers are not yet at full capacity as workers are unable to return to work.

Others report that suppliers returning to work are only at 30 percent capacity as they struggle to get products picked up and shipped due to a lack of drivers, containment and quarantine zones.

For markets dependent on products from China, Johnson said local manufacturers expect shortages in the supply chain, especially for those that do not have safety stock. 

Johnson and Isely were guests on WGVU West Michigan Week, discussing the effects of the virus on the local economy.

The CDC website offers updated information. 


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