Powering the Next Normal: Carlsbad Tech Companies Strengthening Supply Chains Despite COVID-19

November 13, 2020


Last year, most people didn’t think about how toilet paper makes it to the grocery shelf. And we certainly didn’t imagine it would ever be protected by armed guards, warrant hour-long lines, or propel people to cross the US border to stock up.

The pandemic has upended life in ways we’re still quantifying. But already it’s clear that COVID-19 has forced companies to reimagine their supply chains. Many local businesses are rising to the occasion, thanks to technology innovations happening right here in Carlsbad.

Case in point: As demand surged across grocery stores, Walmart was able to swiftly scale by marrying its online shopping with in-person pickup at its parking lots.

“We were primed for this because we’d already been working to bridge our online shopping with our physical stores,” said Claude Jones, Senior Director of Engineering for Walmart Global Tech, which has offices in Carlsbad.

For example, the Walmart app was already designed to ping shoppers when their local stores were stocked with particular items — a feature that was handy when people were keeping close tabs on toilet paper.

Having the right technology in place allowed Walmart to expand its capacity, seemingly overnight. They were hiring about 5,000 employees a day at the height of the pandemic, Jones said. Since March, the company has added about 200,000 employees to keep up with demand.

And as it looks to the “next normal”, Walmart is acknowledging that more shoppers will likely work remotely from now on. It has responded with express delivery services at 2,000 new stores, letting shoppers order online and receive their orders in less than two hours.

Jones said in the not-too-distant future, those home deliveries could happen via drones or self-driving cars, which Walmart is testing.

Outside the consumer world, logistics are also rapidly changing in the business-to-business sector. Carlsbad-based ShipCalm has been on the leading edge as it manages logistics for e-commerce retailers.

“Our technology can easily integrate into online stores, and then ship orders on their behalf,” said Greg Moser, ShipCalm President and Chief Technology Officer. “We then provide real-time data for tracking.”

Before the pandemic, the e-commerce companies served by ShipCalm accounted for about 12 percent of total commerce in the US. In one quarter, that jumped to 17 percent. And from February to July, the company saw a 169-percent jump in total business—partially driven by massive amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) being distributed at hospitals and by government agencies.

The medical field has perhaps driven some of the biggest changes in supply chain management. Clinics, hospitals and labs have needed to quickly move COVID-19 tests, and the traditional modes of transportation aren’t always an option.

“The pandemic has taken a major toll on flight schedules, so companies have had to rethink their logistics,” said Ryan Rusnak, Airspace Technologies Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer. “Luckily we have algorithms that can quickly recalculate a new path for the shipment to better navigate the now rapidly-changing transportation infrastructure.”

The company’s technology is based on real-time transportation data to determine the best way to move cargo in a timely manner. Often, that means mixing transportation by trucks, trains and planes based on what the data reveals.

During the pandemic, Airspace Technologies has helped major lab companies, including LabCorp and LabQuest, process massive volumes of COVID-19 tests.
“Even during COVID, patients are still getting organ transplants—and in that regard, every minute matters,” he said. “Our technology has helped move life-saving cargo despite the transportation challenges the pandemic has presented.”

Carlsbad Economic Development Manager Matt Sanford said these companies are a testament to the city’s growing tech talent.

“So much of the impressive work these companies do is behind the scenes, so people may not realize we have tremendous tech leadership here in Carlsbad,” he said. “Carlsbad is home to more than 250 tech companies, and we expect it will continue to grow.”

In fact, all three companies — Walmart Global Tech, ShipCalm and Airspace Technologies — said they chose Carlsbad because it’s seen as an emerging tech hub.

“The level of talent in Carlsbad is exceptional,” Jones said. “I was able to hire 100 technologists in less than 8 months here. We’re excited to keep growing here with all the other leading tech companies.”

To learn more about the City of Carlsbad’s business services, please visit its business resources page or contact the City at 760-607-2923.