But cars reinforce the prospect that the readjustment period could last a while.

Automakers are flirting with the idea of keeping production lower so there are fewer cars in the market and price cuts are less common. Mr. Smoke is skeptical that they will hold that line once it means ceding market share to competitors — but the process could take months or years.

“I’m hesitant to say that we won’t have discounting again,” Mr. Smoke said. “But it’s going to take a while to get back to that world.”

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U.S. Northeast faces potential energy shortages as rails start to shut

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Unused oil tank cars are pictured on Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad tracks outside Hinsdale, New York August 24, 2015. Picture taken August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario/File Photo

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NEW YORK, Sept 14 (Reuters) – Some trains carrying fuel components to the U.S. Northeast have been halted in preparation for a possible railroad shutdown in the coming days, two sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

The northernmost East Coast states rely on railroad shipments to supplement pipeline deliveries from the U.S. Gulf. The region is among the largest fuel consumers in the nation, where U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that in July inventories of heating oil and diesel reached the lowest levels in at least three decades.

Major railroads, including Union Pacific (UNP.N) and Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRKa.N) BNSF, must reach a tentative deal with three unions representing 60,000 workers before 12:01 a.m. on Friday to avert a shutdown.

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Unit trains to the Northeast that carry commodities including ethanol and crude oil have already stopped, two sources told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

All railroads are preparing to wind down operations in the next day, said a spokesperson at Norfolk Southern (NSC.N) who declined to comment further. Passenger rail operator Amtrak has already canceled all long-distance routes nationwide as their trains run largely on freight lines outside of the U.S. Northeast. read more

Nationwide, stocks of distillates, which include heating oil and diesel, are at their lowest levels seasonally since 2000, according to EIA data.

The situation is more dire in New England and the Central Atlantic states. In that region, stretching from Maine to Maryland, stocks are at 16.6 million barrels, lowest seasonally since the EIA started keeping the data in 1990.

Fuel distributors generally have inventories to last several days and those markets can also receive imports, but prices would be expected to rise in anticipation of a possible shortage.

Some shippers, anticipating a shutdown, have already stopped transporting hazardous materials around the United States, including fuel blending components.

“I already have companies that have been limiting their production knowing this was coming and now they’ll have to face the music and shut down,” said Tom Williamson, a railcar broker and owner of Transportation Consultants, which manages over 2,000 railcars.

He said he has been busy the past few days communicating with clients who are starting to shut down production of hazardous materials.

The upper Northeast relies on rail for shipments of crude oil, natural gas and fuel products more than other regions because of a lack of pipelines. New England receives most of the natural gas it uses to heat homes and light stoves by rail, according to consultancy RBN Energy, making it vulnerable to a stoppage.

“Over the past 20 years, regional imbalances between where products are produced and where they are demanded has increased,” said Debnil Chowdhury, vice president, Americas head of refining and marketing, S&P Global Commodity Insights. “This has increased the need to transfer products from the Gulf Coast to the (Northeast).”

Pipelines carrying fuel and natural gas from Texas and other oil and gas-producing states of the U.S. South are already full, Chowdhury said, leaving little room to increase flows on the lines if a shutdown happens.

“All sorts of stuff is going to grind to a halt,” said one executive familiar with the region’s rail operations, who asked not to be named. “It’s going to be brutal.”

In July, governors of New England states wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm warning her that the region faced surging winter heating bills due to lack of natural gas pipeline connectivity.

They also asked the Biden Administration to suspend the Jones Act, which requires goods moved between U.S. ports to be carried by ships built domestically and staffed by U.S. crew, for the delivery of LNG for at least a portion of the upcoming winter.

In 2021, the six-state New England region got most of its power, or 46%, from natural gas, according to ISO New England, the region’s power grid operator. On the coldest winter days, the grid relies on oil as well to fuel a much bigger percentage of power generation.

Nationwide, shippers for oil and chemical companies are making contingency plans.

“We are starting to see impacts already,” said Chris Ball, chief executive officer of Quantix, a Houston-based company that provides trucks and trailers to transport chemicals for companies including Exxon Mobil, Dow and LyondellBasell.

“They (railroads) have already restricted what they’re taking and so we’re getting a fair amount of trucking orders across our whole network,” Ball said.

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Reporting by Laila Kearney, Laura Sanicola and Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Arathy Somasekhar in Houston and Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Laura Sanicola

Thomson Reuters

Reports on oil and energy, including refineries, markets and renewable fuels. Previously worked at Euromoney Institutional Investor and CNN.

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Strike Threat on Freight Railroads Is New Supply Chain Worry

“Failure to finalize an agreement before the Sept. 16 deadline will hurt U.S. consumers and imperil the availability, affordability and accessibility of everyday essential products,” the Consumer Brands Association, which represents manufacturers of food, beverage, household and personal care products, said in a letter to Mr. Biden last week.

In a statement over the weekend, Corey Rosenbusch, the president of the Fertilizer Institute, an industry group, said a potential work stoppage would be “bad news for farmers and food security.”

The Association of American Railroads, a freight rail industry group, said a disruption to service would cost more than $2 billion per day in economic output, idle thousands of trains and result in widespread product shortages and job losses. Rail accounts for about 28 percent of U.S. freight movement, second only to trucking’s nearly 40 percent, according to federal data.

More than 460,000 additional trucks would be needed each day to carry the goods otherwise delivered by rail, the American Trucking Associations, another industry group, said in a letter last week asking lawmakers to be prepared to intervene. The trucking industry faces a shortage of 80,000 drivers, so a rail disruption would “create havoc in the supply chain and fuel inflationary pressures across the board,” it said.

In a message on Friday, Steve Bobb, the chief marketing officer of one of the rail carriers, BNSF, encouraged customers to ask Congress to intervene. His counterpart at Norfolk Southern echoed that request to its customers over the weekend, too.

Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said on Friday that he was hopeful that a strike could be averted, but was prepared to act if not.

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Store Shelves Are No Longer Bare, but Baby Formula Remains in Short Supply

More than six months after one of the largest infant formula manufacturing plants in the United States issued a recall and was then shut down because of contamination concerns, a newborn staple remains in short supply.

In parts of the country, parents and their families are scrambling to locate precious containers of formula for their babies and many large retailers remain out of stock of popular brands. Some companies like Walmart and Target are limiting the number of containers that can be purchased at one time.

While the situation has improved since mid-July, the out-of-stock figures for powder formula on store shelves in late August remained at 23 percent, still above the 10 percent it was before the recall and shutdown, according to the Chicago-based market research firm IRI.

infections in four babies — two of them fatal — who had consumed formula manufactured at the plant. On Feb. 17, two days after the shutdown, Abbott recalled batches of three powdered formulas over complaints of serious bacterial contamination. (Abbott has said that there is no “conclusive evidence” to link the company’s formulas to the illnesses.) That disruption made it clear just how dependent Americans were on a few formula manufacturers, and the Biden administration found itself scrambling to figure out how to make more product available.

ending around Nov. 14, the F.D.A. said it would release guidance this month on how the new companies can continue to sell in the United States past this fall.

“Parents in the U.S. have been looking for a better product than what they were being offered,” said Will McMahon, one of the members of the family who owns the British baby formula Kendamil. The company has spent the last three years working through the formal process, including clinical trials, necessary to get its organic infant formula approved by the F.D.A.

Kendamil was one of the earliest formulas to get its application approved by the F.D.A. in the wake of the Sturgis plant shutdown, and the company has begun sending two million cans of formula to the United States.

dropped in early August after it said the F.D.A. had notified it that it was “deferring further consideration” of its application to import formula into the United States.

resume manufacturing of Similac formulas at its plant in Sturgis.

The company also said that it increased production at other U.S.-based manufacturing plants and one in Ireland, and that it would supply the United States with more than eight million pounds of formula in August, an increase from the year before. But it noted it would take six weeks for the Similac product from the Sturgis plant to start to hit store shelves.

But some industry experts say it will take time for Abbott to gain back the market share it once had. “To be frank, there is a lot of consumer mistrust around Similac right now,” said Mr. Dittmeier of the W.I.C. program.

That could be a boon for Reckitt Benckiser, which has been running its formula manufacturing plants at full tilt all summer, hoping to hold on to the market share it has gained at Abbott’s expense. Its market share has climbed to nearly 60 percent from 35 percent before the recall, said Robert Cleveland, who oversees the Mead Johnson nutrition business at Reckitt.

“We remain committed to making as much formula as we can,” Mr. Cleveland said. “We continue to maximize our domestic manufacturing, running overtime and going 24/7.” He added that the company had received approval to bring in formula from its plants in Singapore and specialty formula from its facilities in Mexico.

Still, in late August, when Lori Sharp, a first-time mother in Port Hueneme, Calif., realized she was down to one container of Reckitt’s Enfamil Sensitive infant formula for her 3-month-old daughter, the formula was out of stock on Walmart.com.

Panicking, she scoured more websites and widened her geographic search. She eventually discovered a container of formula at a Target 40 minutes away in Moorpark, Calif. “I went into the store and they actually had four more, but their shelves were so bare,” Ms. Sharp said. “I bought all of them.”

In Georgia, some of the most acute shortages are in rural areas. Jennifer Kelly, who is the family services manager at the early Head Start program in Swainsboro, which is between Macon and Savannah, said trying to find formula earlier this summer had become a “daily chore.”

The 14 babies she watches drink seven different kinds of formula. She and her staff were often driving to Walmart, Walgreens or a local grocery chain or scouring Amazon for some of the more obscure brands.

“It’s not like it was a few months ago when the shelves were bare,” Ms. Kelly said. “I am hoping we are on the other side of this dilemma.”

When the formula shortage was at a crisis point in May, Ms. Robinson of Bucks County, Pa., created a Facebook group that connected parents around the country. The group, called Formula Hunters, does not exchange money to keep out profiteers who have been hoarding formula and seeking to resell it at a markup.

The group operates on the notion that a parent who buys a hard-to-find formula brand and sends it to another parent in the group will eventually be repaid when others do the same for them.

Formula Hunters now has 1,500 members, who are still actively helping each other locate formula. “This has been going on for so many months,” Ms. Robinson said. “The frustration has been high.”

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Solar America Continues Industry Leadership With Inc. 5000 2022 Award Ranking

DENVER–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Solar America, the leading solar and alternative energy company, has been recognized as one of America’s fastest-growing companies with a coveted spot on the Inc. 5000 2022 rankings. America’s leading provider of solar, smart home, and security solutions, the accolade is the result of impressive and continued growth during the past three years.

The award recognizes Solar America’s outstanding growth and success by ranking the company at a time when the U.S. solar industry saw record solar and energy storage demand in 2021 despite concerns over supply chain interruptions and tariff investigations. As a result, Solar America has had one of its most successful years in business.

Solar America operates a national marketplace for solar, partnering with the top solar installers in the nation. The company connects people to the clean energy marketplace by giving them choices. More information is at https://solaramerica.io/.

The list represents a one-of-a-kind look at the most successful companies within the economy’s most dynamic segment—its independent businesses. Each of the companies on the 2022 Inc. 5000 have achieved consistent substantial successful revenue growth and demonstrated distinctive resilience amid supply chain woes, labor shortages, and the ongoing impact of Covid-19. Among the top 500 companies on the list, the average median three-year revenue growth rate soared to 2,144 percent. Together, those companies added more than 68,394 jobs over the past three years. First published in 2007, the rankings were built on of the success of the publisher’s famous Inc. 500 list of top companies, first introduced in 1982. Complete results of the Inc. 5000 can be found at www.inc.com/inc5000.

The accomplishment of building one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S., in light of recent economic roadblocks, cannot be overstated,” says Scott Omelianuk, editor-in-chief of Inc. “Inc. is thrilled to honor the companies that have established themselves through innovation, hard work, and rising to the challenges of today.”

The Inc. 5000 ranking is now a sought-after hallmark of entrepreneurial success that is often compared with the famous Fortune 500 list and has previously honored leading household brand names including Pandora, 7-Eleven, Zipcar, and Zappos.com and has become a distinguished editorial awards presentation, a celebration of innovation, and an effective public relations showcase. First published in 2007, the rankings were built on of the success of the publisher’s famous Inc. 500 list of top companies, first introduced in 1982.

About Solar America

Headquartered in Denver, CO, Solar America operates a national marketplace for solar, partnering with the top solar installers in the nation. The company connects people to the clean energy marketplace by giving them choices. More information is at https://solaramerica.io/.

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Shock Waves Hit the Global Economy, Posing Grave Risk to Europe

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the continuing effects of the pandemic have hobbled countries around the globe, but the relentless series of crises has hit Europe the hardest, causing the steepest jump in energy prices, some of the highest inflation rates and the biggest risk of recession.

The fallout from the war is menacing the continent with what some fear could become its most challenging economic and financial crisis in decades.

While growth is slowing worldwide, “in Europe it’s altogether more serious because it’s driven by a more fundamental deterioration,” said Neil Shearing, group chief economist at Capital Economics. Real incomes and living standards are falling, he added. “Europe and Britain are just worse off.”

eightfold increase in natural gas prices since the war began presents a historic threat to Europe’s industrial might, living standards, and social peace and cohesion. Plans for factory closings, rolling blackouts and rationing are being drawn up in case of severe shortages this winter.

China, a powerful engine of global growth and a major market for European exports like cars, machinery and food, is facing its own set of problems. Beijing’s policy of continuing to freeze all activity during Covid-19 outbreaks has repeatedly paralyzed large swaths of the economy and added to worldwide supply chain disruptions. In the last few weeks alone, dozens of cities and more than 300 million people have been under full or partial lockdowns. Extreme heat and drought have hamstrung hydropower generation, forcing additional factory closings and rolling blackouts.

refusing to pay their mortgages because they have lost confidence that developers will ever deliver their unfinished housing units. Trade with the rest of the world took a hit in August, and overall economic growth, although likely to outrun rates in the United States and Europe, looks as if it will slip to its slowest pace in a decade this year. The prospect has prompted China’s central bank to cut interest rates in hopes of stimulating the economy.

“The global economy is undoubtedly slowing,” said Gregory Daco, chief economist at the global consulting firm EY- Parthenon, but it’s “happening at different speeds.”

In other parts of the world, countries that are able to supply vital materials and goods — particularly energy producers in the Middle East and North Africa — are seeing windfall gains.

And India and Indonesia are growing at unexpectedly fast paces as domestic demand increases and multinational companies look to vary their supply chains. Vietnam, too, is benefiting as manufacturers switch operations to its shores.

head-spinning energy bills this winter ratcheted up this week after Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, declared it would not resume the flow of natural gas through its Nord Stream 1 pipeline until Europe lifted Ukraine-related sanctions.

Daily average electricity prices in Western Europe have reached record levels, according to Rystad Energy, surging past 600 euros ($599) per megawatt-hour in Germany and €700 in France, with peak-hour rates as high as €1,500.

In the Czech Republic, roughly 70,000 angry protesters, many with links to far-right groups, gathered in Wenceslas Square in Prague this past weekend to demonstrate against soaring energy bills.

The German, French and Finnish governments have already stepped in to save domestic power companies from bankruptcy. Even so, Uniper, which is based in Germany and one of Europe’s largest natural gas buyers and suppliers, said last week that it was losing more than €100 million a day because of the rise in prices.

International Monetary Fund this week to issue a proposal to reform the European Union’s framework for government public spending and deficits.

caps blunt the incentive to reduce energy consumption — the chief goal in a world of shortages.

Central banks in the West are expected to keep raising interest rates to make borrowing more expensive and force down inflation. On Thursday, the European Central Bank raised interest rates by three-quarters of a point, matching its biggest increase ever. The U.S. Federal Reserve is likely to do the same when it meets this month. The Bank of England has taken a similar position.

The worry is that the vigorous push to bring down prices will plunge economies into recessions. Higher interest rates alone won’t bring down the price of oil and gas — except by crashing economies so much that demand is severely reduced. Many analysts are already predicting a recession in Germany, Italy and the rest of the eurozone before the end of the year. For poor and emerging countries, higher interest rates mean more debt and less money to spend on the most vulnerable.

“I think we’re living through the biggest development disaster in history, with more people being pushed more quickly into dire poverty than has every happened before,” said Mr. Goldin, the Oxford professor. “It’s a particularly perilous time for the world economy.”

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Putin Says He Will Meet With Xi and Insists Russia ‘Has Not Lost Anything’

Since fighting broke out in Ukraine nearly seven months ago, Russia and Europe have been waging an economic war over energy, one that could have dire consequences for millions of households and businesses across the continent.

Last year, nearly 40 percent of the natural gas used to heat homes and power businesses throughout the European Union came from Russia, one of the continent’s largest and most important trading partners for energy.

Now barely half that amount enters Europe, government statistics show, stoking fears of shortages this winter.

As part of a wide-ranging effort to cripple Russia’s economy, which is largely propelled by the sale of fossil fuels, the European Union has imposed huge sanctions and has vowed to eventually stop buying Russian gas.

But with Europe still dependent on Russia in the meantime, Russia has retaliated by severely restricting the flow of energy to Europe, forcing governments to try to find alternatives.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “is using energy as a weapon by cutting supply and manipulating our energy markets,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter.

This battle has proved costly for both sides.

Alternative buyers of Russia’s oil and gas, including China and India, are taking advantage of the situation and pushing for steep discounts. That is limiting the revenue that Moscow needs to power its economy, as well as to build pipelines and ports to supply energy to Asia more regularly.

European governments are paying high prices to stock up on the fuel, asking citizens and companies to save energy and unveiling sweeping emergency packages to cap energy bills and bail out struggling businesses.

Even countries that don’t import Russian gas are suffering, because electricity prices are closely linked to gas. The benchmark wholesale price of natural gas in Europe, which has been incredibly volatile since the war in Ukraine began, is roughly four times what it was a year ago.

The average European household is facing a monthly energy bill of 500 euros ($494) next year, triple the amount in 2021, according to estimates by analysts at Goldman Sachs. Applied to all energy users, that implies a €2 trillion increase in spending on heat and electricity.

The squeeze is particularly acute in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, which relies on Russia as its biggest supplier of gas. The bulk of it flows through Nord Stream 1, a 760-mile passageway that connects the two countries via the Baltic Sea.

Since the war, the Russian-controlled operator of the pipeline, Gazprom, has twice reduced the amount of gas it sends to Germany and twice shut the pipeline down for maintenance. After the most recent shutdown last week, Gazprom postponed a planned restart, citing faulty equipment, and provided no timeline for reopening, with officials in the Kremlin blaming sanctions for delaying repairs.

Critics suggested that last week’s move was a cynical response by Russia after finance ministers for the Group of 7 countries said they had agreed to impose a price cap mechanism on Russian oil in a bid to choke off some of the revenue Moscow still generates from Europe.

The indefinite shutdown nonetheless raised fears that it could become permanent. A complete cutoff from Russian gas would push Europeans’ energy bills even higher and hit the region’s economy even harder, with experts projecting a potentially deep recession in the most exposed countries. A shutdown would subtract nearly 3 percent from Germany’s economy next year, economists at the International Monetary Fund have estimated.

“In our view, the market continues to underestimate the depth, the breadth and the structural repercussions of the crisis,” the Goldman Sachs analysts wrote. “We believe these will be even deeper than the 1970s oil crisis.”

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The Supply Chain Broke. Robots Are Supposed to Help Fix It.

The people running companies that deliver all manner of products gathered in Philadelphia last week to sift through the lessons of the mayhem besieging the global supply chain. At the center of many proposed solutions: robots and other forms of automation.

On the showroom floor, robot manufacturers demonstrated their latest models, offering them as efficiency-enhancing augments to warehouse workers. Driverless trucks and drones commanded display space, advertising an unfolding era in which machinery will occupy a central place in bringing products to our homes.

The companies depicted their technology as a way to save money on workers and optimize scheduling, while breaking down resistance to a future centered on evolving forms of automation.

persistent economic shocks have intensified traditional conflicts between employers and employees around the globe. Higher prices for energy, food and other goods — in part the result of enduring supply chain tangles — have prompted workers to demand higher wages, along with the right to continue working from home. Employers cite elevated costs for parts, raw materials and transportation in holding the line on pay, yielding a wave of strikes in countries like Britain.

The stakes are especially high for companies engaged in transporting goods. Their executives contend that the Great Supply Chain Disruption is largely the result of labor shortages. Ports are overwhelmed and retail shelves are short of goods because the supply chain has run out of people willing to drive trucks and move goods through warehouses, the argument goes.

Some labor experts challenge such claims, while reframing worker shortages as an unwillingness by employers to pay enough to attract the needed numbers of people.

“This shortage narrative is industry-lobbying rhetoric,” said Steve Viscelli, an economic sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream.” “There is no shortage of truck drivers. These are just really bad jobs.”

A day spent wandering the Home Delivery World trade show inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center revealed how supply chain companies are pursuing automation and flexible staffing as antidotes to rising wages. They are eager to embrace robots as an alternative to human workers. Robots never get sick, not even in a pandemic. They never stay home to attend to their children.

A large truck painted purple and white occupied a prime position on the showroom floor. It was a driverless delivery vehicle produced by Gatik, a Silicon Valley company that is running 30 of them between distribution centers and Walmart stores in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Here was the fix to the difficulties of trucking firms in attracting and retaining drivers, said Richard Steiner, Gatik’s head of policy and communications.

“It’s not quite as appealing a profession as it once was,” he said. “We’re able to offer a solution to that trouble.”

Nearby, an Israeli start-up company, SafeMode, touted a means to limit the notoriously high turnover plaguing the trucking industry. The company has developed an app that monitors the actions of drivers — their speed, the abruptness of their braking, their fuel efficiency — while rewarding those who perform better than their peers.

The company’s founder and chief executive, Ido Levy, displayed data captured the previous day from a driver in Houston. The driver’s steady hand at the wheel had earned him an extra $8 — a cash bonus on top of the $250 he typically earns in a day.

“We really convey a success feeling every day,” Mr. Levy, 31, said. “That really encourages retention. We’re trying to make them feel that they are part of something.”

Mr. Levy conceived of the company with a professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab who tapped research on behavioral psychology and gamification (using elements of game playing to encourage participation).

So far, the SafeMode system has yielded savings of 4 percent on fuel while increasing retention by one-quarter, Mr. Levy said.

Another company, V-Track, based in Charlotte, N.C., employs a technology that is similar to SafeMode’s, also in an effort to dissuade truck drivers from switching jobs. The company places cameras in truck cabs to monitor drivers, alerting them when they are looking at their phones, driving too fast or not wearing their seatbelt.

Jim Becker, the company’s product manager, said many drivers hade come to value the cameras as a means of protecting themselves against unwarranted accusations of malfeasance.

But what is the impact on retention if drivers chafe at being surveilled?

“Frustrations about increased surveillance, especially around in-cab cameras,” are a significant source of driver lament, said Max Farrell, co-founder and chief executive of WorkHound, which gathers real-time feedback.

Several companies on the show floor catered to trucking companies facing difficulties in hiring people to staff their dispatch centers. Their solution was moving such functions to countries where wages are lower.

Lean Solutions, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sets up call centers in Colombia and Guatemala — a response to “the labor challenge in the U.S.,” said Hunter Bell, a company sales agent.

A Kentucky start-up, NS Talent Solutions, establishes dispatch operations in Mexico, at a saving of up to 40 percent compared with the United States.

“The pandemic has helped,” said Michael Bartlett, director of sales. “The world is now comfortable with remote staffing.”

Scores of businesses promoted services that recruit and vet part-time and temporary workers, offering a way for companies to ramp up as needed without having to commit to full-time employees.

Pruuvn, a start-up in Atlanta, sells a service that allows companies to eliminate employees who recruit and conduct background checks.

“It allows you to get rid of or replace multiple individuals,” the company’s chief executive, Bryan Hobbs, said during a presentation.

Another staffing firm, Veryable of Dallas, offered a platform to pair workers such as retirees and students seeking part-time, temporary stints with supply chain companies.

Jonathan Katz, the company’s regional partnerships manager for the Southeast, described temporary staffing as the way for smaller warehouses and distribution operations that lack the money to install robots to enhance their ability to adjust to swings in demand.

A drone company, Zipline, showed video of its equipment taking off behind a Walmart in Pea Ridge, Ark., dropping items like mayonnaise and even a birthday cake into the backyards of customers’ homes. Another company, DroneUp, trumpeted plans to set up similar services at 30 Walmart stores in Arkansas, Texas and Florida by the end of the year.

But the largest companies are the most focused on deploying robots.

Locus, the manufacturer, has already outfitted 200 warehouses globally with its robots, recently expanding into Europe and Australia.

Locus says its machines are meant not to replace workers but to complement them — a way to squeeze more productivity out of the same warehouse by relieving the humans of the need to push the carts.

But the company also presents its robots as the solution to worker shortages. Unlike workers, robots can be easily scaled up and cut back, eliminating the need to hire and train temporary employees, Melissa Valentine, director of retail global accounts at Locus, said during a panel discussion.

Locus even rents out its robots, allowing customers to add them and eliminate them as needed. Locus handles the maintenance.

Robots can “solve labor issues,” said Nathan Ray, director of distribution center operations at Albertsons, the grocery chain, who previously held executive roles at Amazon and Target. “You can find a solution that’s right for your budget. There’s just so many options out there.”

As Mr. Ray acknowledged, a key impediment to the more rapid deployment of automation is fear among workers that robots are a threat to their jobs. Once they realize that the robots are there not to replace them but merely to relieve them of physically taxing jobs like pushing carts, “it gets really fun,” Mr. Ray said. “They realize it’s kind of cool.”

Workers even give robots cute nicknames, he added.

But another panelist, Bruce Dzinski, director of transportation at Party City, a chain of party supply stores, presented robots as an alternative to higher pay.

“You couldn’t get labor, so you raised your wages to try to get people,” he said. “And then everybody else raised wages.”

Robots never demand a raise.

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