Don’t be surprised to see more paper temporary tags than usual on cars navigating West Virginia’s roads.
Production is down as the prison system has scaled back operations because of confirmed COVID-19 cases and inmates being quarantined, according to state officials. West Virginia Correctional Industries at Mount Olive Correctional Complex cranked out 469,373 license plates in 2020, said Lawrence Messina of the state Department of Homeland Security. The usual output is about 500,000 plates crafted by the plant’s 17-inmate crew. Those plates are then ordered months in advance by the state and stored in a warehouse for distribution.
“There have been some distribution delays to motorists, especially for specialty plates,” said Natalie Holcomb, spokeswoman for the state Division of Motor Vehicles.
West Virginia isn’t the only state that’s had to adapt.
California — the largest manufacturer of license plates in the country — is also dealing with reduced production. Its 120-man workforce normally crafts upwards of 50,000 plates daily Monday through Thursday at its Folsom State Prison Factory. But officials said those numbers now vary widely thanks to hundreds of COVID-19 cases throughout the prison.
And an initiative North Carolina started planning in 2019 is just now starting — six months after its expected launch.
North Carolina’s plan to replace all license plates that are seven years old or older was pushed back because of COVID-19-related delays. It’s a sizable task considering North Carolina residents haven’t had to replace license plates so long as they were readable. That backlog created an estimated need to replace 2.4 million license plates in the first year alone for standard plates with specialty plates to be swapped out in Year Two.
West Virginia isn’t tackling any such projects, though the shortage is still felt here.
Travis Fair, sales manager at Dutch Miller of South Charleston, said the delay has prompted an extension in temporary tags from 60 to 90 days for cars purchased at West Virginia dealerships.
“We sell over 200 units a month, so you can imagine how many we have to keep on hand,” Fair said. “Not everyone gets a new one, but we have to keep a good stock of them. We’ve come close [to running out], but so far we’ve been OK.”