Local Companies Adapt Business Model to Respond to Healthcare Needs

posted on Thursday, April 30, 2020 in COVID-19

What do a distillery, fire apparel company and a print shop all have in common? In addition to being northwest Iowa businesses, when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their operations, they were able to be flexible and change their production models to help fulfill needs at Spencer Hospital.

Verdian Fire Protective Gear

Based in Spencer, Veridian Fire Protective Gear manufactures protective clothing for fire fighters and emergency first responders internationally. By having the right equipment available combined with skilled staff, the Veridian team was able to adjust their production model to make a different highly needed item for Spencer Hospital and other healthcare organizations – medical isolation gowns.

“The current need nationally and locally for medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is substantial,” commented Veridian president Bill Van Lent.  “As with many products used in the U.S., most production is done overseas.  Due to the Veridian's specialized fire PPE expertise, we have cut-n-sew equipment and skilled operators capable of meeting this urgent need.  We have temporarily suspended our primary production in support of this effort.”

Spencer Hospital placed Veridian’s first order for cloth gowns. Since then, the State of Iowa has also placed a large order.

“Veridian is pleased to be able to assist the local community and the State of Iowa,” Van Lent said. “Veridian's ability to quickly transition to a completely different type of manufacturing process is a testament to the exceptional skill and determination of our Spencer area team members.  This kind of dedication and effort is why Veridian chooses to maintain and grow our business in Iowa.”

Lakes Marketing and Print – In Collaboration with Others

Lakes Marketing and Print located in Spirit Lake produces multi-channel marketing for clients, including Spencer Hospital, which has worked with the company on a number of projects and has ordered materials such as posters and direct mail postcards. Yet, upon identifying the need for hospitals and other healthcare entities to have greater access to personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 crisis, they devised a plan to help.

“Upon seeing the need for PPE, we created a consortium in northwest Iowa to produce face shields,” shared Rick Ayres, owner of Lakes Marketing and Print. Rick was joined by Chris and Brad Shanahan of the Mail House in Sioux City; Shawn Stone, Professor of Physics and Computer Science at Buena Vista University; Adam Perry, band director in Sioux Rapids; Chad Tischer at Iowa Lakes Community College, and a couple others who wish to remain anonymous.

Ayres explained: “Together we are running 26 3D printers making the plastic head band for the face shields. Lakes Marketing and Print is supplying the clear vinyl shields which have been router cut on a CNC machine, the elastic straps and rubber band closures, and doing all the fulfillment. We have a route driver from the Mail House who drives from Sioux City through all the communities and picks up the head bands on Monday and Thursday and drops them at Lakes Marketing and Print for fulfillment. Everyone has stepped up in a big way, running 3D printers 24/7, buying additional 3D printers, supplies for shields, elastic, and keeping it running as smooth as possible. To date we've shipped around 3,000 to facilities in northwest Iowa.”

Being in the creative field, Ayres is no stranger to trying new product lines; however, this production shift was even a bit of a surprise to him. “Five weeks ago, this wasn't even on my radar,” he commented. “Now, together with all these other great people, we're making a difference for people needing face shields for PPE.”

Ayres said in addition to the mask shields for healthcare, it’s also been rewarding to work with area restaurants, developing an easy online order system which helped numerous restaurants quickly get their menus online for curbside ordering.

Century Farms Distillery

Spencer-based Century Farms Distillery usually makes whiskey and vodka under their labels, Prairie States Whiskey and Open Gate Vodka. They also operate a tasting room, mixing up fun concoctions using their products, and during the COVID-19 restrictions, have even offered drinks to go. With the COVID-19 crisis, another product they’ve added to their alcohol line-up for sale and also to give away is hand sanitizer.

“Because of our distiller's license, we are able to process the alcohol needed to make hand sanitizer,” explained Amanda Bare, who co-owns and operates Century Farms Distillery with her husband Ryan.

“We are following the World Health Organization’s recommended formulation, which is 80% ethyl alcohol, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and water,” she said. “We have been able to modify our bottling equipment to fill bottles of hand sanitizer rather than whiskey and vodka.”

The Bares have teamed up with local brewery, West O, to distribute four ounce bottles of the distillery’s hand sanitizer free of charge. They also have larger quantities available for sale, including the 80 gallon drum that Spencer Hospital purchased.

 “We are very glad that we can help out with a definite need,” Bare said. “We still continue to receive calls daily from people looking for hand sanitizer, and we’ll continue to make it as long as there is a need.”

She added: “Thank you to everyone at Spencer Hospital! We are incredibly proud to be part of this wonderful community and truly appreciate the fantastic support we have received.”