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Brad Root was watching TV when he saw nurses making their own face masks. He knew immediately that his company could help.
Root, the president of family-owned GM Nameplate, recognized that the same issues that caused the company’s aerospace business to dry up provided a new opportunity.
“Because aerospace was off, we moved those people into making PPE face shields,” Root says. “It was nice to keep those employees working in areas with the greatest need.”
GM Nameplate — the largest Seattle-based manufacturer of components such as automobile emblems and printed electrodes and biosensors for the medical device industry — produced and shipped about 350,000 face shields for frontline health care workers throughout the United States.
Working with Swedish Health Services for feedback, Root says it “was a matter of days from prototype to production.”
GM Nameplate was founded in 1954. Root’s father, Don, was hired as an account manager eight years later, becoming the company’s 13th employee. Today, all four of Don’s children work at the company, which employs more than 1,000 people.
Root discussed the company’s quick response to the pandemic and the lessons it learned:
“As a manufacturer who supports medical device [manufacturing] and defense, we are an essential business.
“The first action we took when Covid hit was to communicate to our employees as best we could. We encouraged people to only get the rest of their Covid-19 information from credible news sources to cut down on unnecessary panic! We let people work remotely if they could and allowed people to be temporarily furloughed based on their level of comfort.
“We instituted masks, social distancing, temperature checks and enhanced cleaning protocols immediately. We let people know that we would be taking every precaution to provide a safe work environment.
“We had an employee test positive and we had the entire facility professionally disinfected and the surrounding employees quarantined as well.
“It was amazing to see the spirit of people wanting to help build PPE when the opportunity arose! Our employees were our best recruiters and it was amazing to see how many people wanted to help when they knew we were building PPE!
“It didn’t have to be fancy. That was not the goal. We just wanted to get something out to protect people and be comfortable enough to wear. This was a group effort, not just production and engineering. Everybody in the building was helping.
“We changed from in-person meetings to virtual meetings (Skype, Microsoft Teams). I was skeptical of how well that would work early on, but they’ve made for much more productive meetings. We’ll continue with this practice long after Covid-19.
“We had people opt out and we had an influx of PPE product we were trying to get out so we did need to bring in temporary labor. We brought people in as temporaries to cut down on the onboarding process.
“We ultimately needed to bring our staff back to work as the business started to really lose momentum. As a manufacturing company, we need people in the facility.
“Everyone needs to do what’s best for their business, but I think it’s important to make some firm decisions regarding the end game even if things may change again.
“I honestly don’t know if I would’ve done anything differently.”