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Posted by: AJ Burns | Friday April 3, 2020

Fireworks in February!?

Hello everyone, it’s been four months since an update from our last newsletter, and all the conventions that NCI attends annually. I think everyone can agree the last four months have been a whirlwind. Dozens of press releases from our Firework Associations, ever-changing media narratives, and countless opinions have crossed our news feeds. Without spending too much time discussing COVID-19 as I know it has been touched on in this newsletter, and non-stop in all forms of media. This author hopes to provide relevant updates and an inside look from the industry conventions.

To start, I’d like to recap from the last NCI newsletter. If you’ll recall, NCI staff members attended the Fall APA Convention in Naples. During this convention, the hot topic was China Tariffs. It is safe to say that the fireworks industry has dodged that bullet. A deal was struck in the 11th hour to put a stop to the tariffs on List 4B and the remainder of China produced fireworks. Additionally, list 4A which had already been enacted, reduced from 15% tariffs to 7.5%. (List 4A pertaining to 1.4g items specifically; includes Sparklers, Party Poppers, and Whipper Snappers.)

Fast forward to February and the APA Winter Educational Conference hosted at the Park MGM Hotel in Las Vegas. NCI again sent representatives to attend conferences and receive the latest industry updates. The industry can breathe a sigh of relief as tariffs have been postponed indefinitely, however, we now face a new set of challenges.

A Snapshot

December 4th, a multi-fatality explosion occurs. Fireworks production comes to a screeching halt. Officials order all Liuyang factories to close. Many suppliers are concerned that this closure will extend into the Chinese New Year. (Jan. 25th – Feb. 8th). December 9th all shipments from Shanghai are suspended due to increased scrutiny and increasing customs requirements. Beihai ports remain open but with very limited capacity. With the United States market preparing for their New Year’s fireworks season, it appears factory production schedules will run behind, and there are rumblings of potential product shortages going into 2020.

December 31st, China alerts the World Health Organization of an unknown pneumonia-like virus that has broken out in the city of Wuhan. Wuhan is located 4 hours north of Liuyang.

Fast forward to January 23rd, the city of Wuhan is placed under quarantine. A term that we are now all intimately familiar with. By January 30th, COVID-19 is declared a global emergency. Factories that were set to open February 9th, remain closed due to the virus.

These occurrences have led up to February 11th and the APA Winter Conference. I was fortunate to attend and had high hopes that industry reports would be much more encouraging. As we attended the General Sessions and committee meetings, it became clear that the factory accident and virus outbreak had a much larger impact than originally thought. Not only were fireworks factories directly impacted, so too was the supply chain. Raw materials, paper goods, chemicals supply, trucks, and the supply of empty shipping containers were all affected. Cargo ships out of China experienced severe shortages and many loads are canceled altogether.

Moving Forward

China is currently seeing some relief from a 3-month long journey. No new cases of COVID have been reported in Wuhan at the time of this article. Most factories have returned to work in some capacity, while still practicing social distancing. Production has begun to ramp back up and containers are being filled. Finally, a morsel of good news for the American fireworks industry.

As we work our way through the next several weeks of uncertainty, your NCI staff will continue to service our customers to the best of our ability. With a healthy amount of inventory currently in stock and dozens of containers being delivered over the next 2 months, NCI is honored to be your supplier of choice! We look forward to your orders!

Steamboat Springs Colorado, Launched into History!

February 6th, two days before launch, Jim casually moves about the “Boom Shed”. Jim and a helper are working to make final preparations on the second 62” world record attempt. The internal fusing is installed, the passfires carefully cut to length, and dozens of obligatory photos must be taken.

Two days lead up to a feat that has been, some say, eight years in the making. I say it’s been a whole lot longer. Over the course of my short three-year history attending PGI conventions, I have been most fortunate to have met the Widmann's. To anyone that has met them once, it is simply Connie and Jim. Two people that are salt of the Earth and instrumental in the fire-working community. Jim’s buildup to this great feat, began when he was a kid. He recalls finding unspent fireworks laying in the streets around the 4th of July. He would use the powders and components to make his own devices. So began his fascination and a life-long passion for fire-working. Jim is happy to share his life experiences and thus, it has landed me holding 8 lengths of quick match in one hand, and a glue gun in the other.

Jim says here, glue them here. I pay close attention to his directions. It is not lost on me to be involved with such a project. This is my 2nd time helping on a 62” shell. My fire-working experience can be traced back to precisely three years ago. I was invited to work along-side Jim and his pyro pal Eric Krug on a 24” shell in Mason City. Since then, a second 24” and 36” at the PGI 50th.

I have heard the stories and the history that have led up to Jim and I standing in the Boom Shed. The Widmanns are more like family now.

Launch Day, Feb. 8th, excitement builds as the shell is hauled up to its launch site. We’ve been here before, but the determination on this cool clear day, it’s different. This record attempt must succeed. Loading goes well, then… “The Wait”. 8 hours of waiting to push the red button. The button that will send a 2,797-pound projectile soaring into history. As many of you know, it worked that night.

Jim and his team successfully launched into the Guinness Book of World Records again. The familiar thud as the shell lifts out of the cold steel mortar, the comets trailing the shell, and 2 seconds of doubt as the shell hits apogee…oh, those 2 seconds… Then, a bright red explosion, roaring cheers and an unbelievable sigh of relief. I have never felt joy quite like this. Words didn’t come to mind then, and to be honest, they don’t right now. A hug from Connie as we celebrated and uncontrollable tears of joy began to flow. I’m not ashamed to say, they were most certainly mine. We soon met up with Jim and his team, high fives and hugs to go around. As the Guinness presentation began, you can see it there on his face, it’s in his eyes and his smile. That little boy finding the joy of fireworks all over again.

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