Monday, June 30, 2008

Will changes in China cause local fireworks shows to fizzle out?

By Mary Ann Ford

BLOOMINGTON -- This year’s fireworks should bring the usual “ohhhhs” and “ahhhhs,” but next year’s displays could be a dud.

Shipping problems and changes in China’s labor and safety laws not only are expected to limit the fireworks imported into the United States but likely will increase the price three-fold or more.

“Everything is up in the air,” said Neecy Vinyard, president and owner of S&N Fireworks of Lincoln. “Shipping costs went up 25 percent this year. We’re expecting a substantial increase in cost next year.”

In addition, Vinyard said, China is no longer exporting the larger fireworks that are used in displays at Bloomington’s Miller Park and Normal’s Fairview Park on the Fourth of July.

The Twin Cities are in the middle of a three-year contract with S&N so the municipalities are guaranteed fireworks through 2009. What kind of fireworks will be available remains to be seen.

“If we locked in for a three-year contract, it stays at that price,” Vinyard said.

That means the company will have to eat any increased costs, just like it did for the increased shipping costs this year. The shipping charges went up after the company had sent a catalog listing prices, Vinyard said.

Andy James, president of Mad Bomber Fireworks in Indiana, said problems started after a February explosion at a warehouse at a port in China. The warehouse had about 100,000 cases of fireworks waiting to be shipped out.

“When the explosion occurred, it sent off a knee-jerk reaction and other ports closed,” James said.

That caused a shipping bottleneck and prompted shipping costs to skyrocket, said Tom Thompson, vice president of Melrose Pyrotechnics. Melrose and Mad Bomber are among the companies the Twin Cities has considered as firework suppliers.

Thompson said China also has implemented new safety guidelines at the ports and new labor laws that affect fireworks factories. About 98 percent of the fireworks used in the United States come from China.

“There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved” before fireworks distributors in the United States know what will be available next year, Thompson said.

“The biggest issue is shipping,” he said. “The ports need to be open.”

Vinyard said because China is hosting the Summer Olympics Aug. 8-24, the country has banned the shipment of fireworks out of the country from July 1 through the end of the Olympics.

While that won’t affected S&N, Melrose or Mad Bomber — each company received the bulk of their 2008 order before the first of the year — it could affect other suppliers.

Vinyard said her company has received calls from some Missouri towns looking for fireworks. She’s also had calls from other firework distributors in the United States wanting to buy some of her supply.

James said his company had its 2008 order by last fall and has already started ordering for the future.

“We have three containers on the way now,” he said.

The company, located at a former ammunition plant, has ample storage available.

Thompson said even though prices are expected to increase significantly, he thinks fireworks still are a great bargain considering how many people are entertained at a fireworks display.

“We’ll always have fireworks,” he said.

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