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Sunday, 17 September 2017 12:22

West Michigan manufacturers help with hurricane recovery efforts

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West Michigan manufacturers often find themselves in a position to help during natural disasters. Muskegon-based KL Outdoor donated a number of kayaks and small boats to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. West Michigan manufacturers often find themselves in a position to help during natural disasters. Muskegon-based KL Outdoor donated a number of kayaks and small boats to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Courtesy Photo

While Houston was reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, employees of Wolverine World Wide Inc. began circulating an email chain with ideas about how they could help with the recovery efforts.

Within a couple days, the Rockford-based apparel manufacturer had struck a partnership with the American Red Cross to commit nearly $2.6 million worth of footwear, apparel and monetary donations to assist the cause.

“It moved pretty swiftly,” said Chris Hufnagel, senior vice president of strategy at Wolverine. “Footwear and apparel are basic needs and are some of the most fundamental things people impacted from the hurricane need. We’re in a unique position to provide [help].”

Wolverine’s (NYSE: WWW) fast action in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey underscores the role manufacturers can play in disaster relief. Manufacturers can act quickly — in some cases faster than federal resources — and they can directly provide the hard goods needed in disaster recovery and relief efforts, said experts interviewed by MiBiz.

When corporations can “find a way to match their product, their people and their organizational purpose, they can really make a huge difference in these recovery efforts,” said Kyle Caldwell, executive director of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.

In Wolverine’s case, that alignment amounted to a mix of apparel and monetary assistance.

“One of our core values is to make the world a better place,” Hufnagel said. “We think companies have a responsibility to help a community.”

Wolverine is not the only West Michigan manufacturer donating to the disaster recovery efforts.

Muskegon-based kayak maker KL Outdoor LLC donated approximately 50 jon boats — a small flat-bottomed boat — to a Houston-based sporting goods chain to use in search and rescue efforts. KL Outdoor also donated 2,000 kayaks to Walmart’s disaster-response team.

“When we look at the things that we can bring to the table for what we make, which is portable sanitation products and boats ... if there is a need there, we will support that,” said Dave Harris, vice president of KL Outdoor.

The company also plans to donate some of its Five Peaks brand of portable restrooms to the recovery efforts in  Texas from Hurricane Harvey, and the latest devastation from Hurricane Irma in Florida.

KL also donated portable sanitation equipment during the cleanup from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Harris said.

Battle Creek-based Kellogg Co. also donated a million servings of various food products including Rice Krispies, Pop Tarts and Nutri-Grain brands to the Houston Food Bank along with $100,000 in financial aid to Feeding America.

While sources interviewed for this report all agree that disaster relief isn’t conducted to drum up business, they do note there is a social responsibility angle to their actions, and that matters to consumers more than ever.

“It’s not a primary motivator,” Hufnagel said of any business benefit coming from donating to disaster recovery. “We don’t think there’s going to be a big business benefit. We also know that modern-day consumers want to know that the companies they participate with are socially responsible.”

With the damage from Hurricane Irma still being assessed and the potential for more storms to make landfall in the coming months, manufacturers are expecting to send more aid as needed.

“This is not the first time we’ve assisted,” Hufnagel said. “It looks like we’re in a bit of an extraordinary hurricane season. We’ll stand ready.”

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