Wyoming Machine | Stacy
LINDAR | Baxter
The Teehive | Baxter
By Maria Surma Manka
Photography by John Linn and Michael Schoenecker
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many industries throughout Central Minnesota. “Our revenue went to zero practically overnight, at a time of year that is typically our busiest,” said Ian Ulrich, director of sales and marketing at The Teehive (theteehive.com), an apparel printer and decorator in Baxter. But with crisis also comes opportunity, and local businesses showed creativity and resilience in fighting for their and their employees’ safety and livelihoods.
After revenue projections plummeted, the majority of The TeeHive’s workforce was laid off. But through a series of community connections and creative thinking, the company pivoted from creating dance costumes and custom apparel for sports teams to masks and isolation gowns. As a result, they’ve brought back nearly all of their employees.
Wyoming Machine (wyomingmachine.com), a sheet metal fabricator that’s headquartered in Stacy, was watching COVID-19 events closely when it got an order for wear plates that was double their typical annual order volume. “We didn’t know that the wear plate we manufactured ended up in medical ventilators!” said Traci Tapani, the company’s co-president and the chair of the Initiative Foundation’s board of directors.
At LINDAR (lindarcorp.com), a plastic thermoforming company in Baxter, operations expanded from food packaging, paint products and commercial agriculture and industrial equipment to face shields. “We were suddenly making 15,000 – 20,000 face shields a week and couldn’t keep up with demand,” said Don Gaalswyk, manufacturing manager.
We checked in with these three business leaders to learn more about how the pandemic reshaped their businesses.
- VENTILATOR VALUE Wyoming Machine’s wear plate is a small but important part for ventilators. “It’s a fairly simple part that looks like a washer, but it’s made out of a specialized aluminum,” explained Tapani. “It’s about the simple parts that come together to make complicated things.” Employees churned out about 60,000 wear plates in 60 days, many times the number they would normally produce in a year. “Our employees that worked on it took pride, knowing we were contributing,” said Tapani.
- PUBLIC PRAISE Country Music Television heard about Wyoming Machine’s work and included a few employees in a TV special that honored “everyday heroes.”
- MAKING MASKS After contacting hospitals to ask how it could help, The Teehive turned its apparel expertise to face masks. Lakewood Health System sent a pattern for non-surgical masks and, after approving The Teehive’s samples, immediately ordered 1,000. Ulrich said they can cut up to 30,000 masks per day.
- GOOD GOWNS The Teehive also expanded its offerings to reusable, washable isolation gowns. After many tests to ensure the material didn’t overheat the wearer, the gowns are now made of a lightweight polyester fabric with a silver anti-microbial additive.
- CREATIVE SOLUTIONS As an apparel shop, The Teehive is well-equipped to produce masks and gowns. One machine lays a gown or mask pattern on top of up to 100 layers of fabric, and a small knife cuts them out automatically. “When we cut gowns, we use the excess fabric up the sides to lay out the mask pattern,” said Ulrich. “That sort of efficiency helps us keep price points down.”
- PROBLEM-SOLVING PRIDE When the pandemic hit, Ulrich said the company had a choice. “We could hide or we could figure it out together. We’re extremely proud to be able to help.”
- CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT At the start of the pandemic, LINDAR used a face shield design that included an elastic strap. When elastic became difficult to source due to demand, an employee suggested a new design based on a surprising idea: the Burger King® crown. The paper crown wraps around the head, with one end of the crown sliding down into a slit on the other end. LINDAR redesigned the shield’s strap to be plastic.
- JOB OPPORTUNITIES LINDAR’s equipment was wellsuited to making face shields, but they are a labor-intensive product where workers apply a foam forehead pad by hand, bag the shield and add labels. “We’ve added 20 jobs and demand still outpaces our capacity,” said Gaalswyk.
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