Businesses use innovation to lend a hand

Posted on Apr 30, 2020 :: Commentary
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Since Wisconsin businesses, organizations and schools began closing in mid-March due to COVID-19, I’ve talked with a lot of people who have been affected negatively, whether it’s employees who have been furloughed or had their pay cut, business owners forced to close or change their operations, managers adjusting to their employees working from home or nonprofit leaders facing increased need along with falling income. Despite the disheartening stories, there have been bright spots — namely, the number of regional businesses that are retooling what they’re doing to help others.

Across the region, countless businesses have moved quickly to help, from making personal protective equipment to providing health care facilities with additional options for where to treat patients. Associate Editor Jessica Thiel and I have tried to keep up with what everyone is doing — and share the stories on our special COVID-19 page on our website ( and through social media — but it isn’t always easy given the onslaught of pandemic-related news. The steps manufacturers have taken have two characteristics in common: innovation and the willingness to help those in need.

Here’s a quick look at what a few businesses have done:

  • Employees at Appleton’s Excellerate Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Faith Technologies, adapted units from the company’s existing containerized solutions to create Emergency Deployable Medical Units in less than five days. Tom Clark, chief experience officer for Excellerate, says the units can help hospitals house and treat COVID-19 patients. Manufacturing the units allows Excellerate to assist during a difficult time and helps the company keep as many employees working as possible, Clark says. “It gave our employees a way to be able to focus on contributing something positive to what was a negative situation,” he says.
  • Carnivore Meat Co. in Green Bay stepped forward to offer use of its ultraviolet sterilization machine to sanitize and disinfect PPE for front-line medical and public service workers throughout Northeast Wisconsin. “It was quite an effort, and the end results are amazing,” said CEO Lanny Viegut.
  • In Sheboygan Falls, Curt G. Joa turned its focus from designing and making machinery for manufacturers to making head straps for face shields. In two days, employees made nearly 80,000 straps that were paired with face shields that went to UW Health employees.
  • Then there’s Hendricks Family Distillery in Omro and Hatch Distillery in Egg Harbor, which went from making spirits to producing hand sanitizer for local health care providers and others in need.

The innovation now taking place is another trait of what makes our region special. As the economic and personal scars of COVID-19 recede, I hope we won’t forget how businesses did what they could to help those fighting the pandemic and how community members created Facebook groups encouraging their neighbors to get takeout or delivery from local restaurants or buy gift certificates from retailers to spend once their stores reopen. Sometimes when things are at their worst, we see the best parts of each other coming to light. That’s a memory I hope to hold onto for a long time.

Associate Editor Jessica Thiel provided additional reporting for this article.