GRAND RAPIDS — As the coronavirus pandemic spread to Michigan, Norman Beauchamp saw a need and an opportunity to coordinate manufacturers locally to supply equipment and supplies to hospitals expecting a surge in patients.
The Michigan State University executive vice president for health sciences contacted The Right Place Inc. CEO Birgit Klohs. Together, they quickly marshalled forces to create a task force that works to coordinate local manufacturers.
Beauchamp wanted to create “intentionality of West Michigan coming together to support the response to this.”
The group’s goal is to identify the existing and anticipated demand of local health systems, and to match them with the capabilities of manufacturers. The effort aims to provide better coordination and avoid chaos at a critical time as the pandemic worsens in the coming weeks.
“It was really the idea that there are strengths in the community and this tsunami is going to hit. How can we mobilize our community to be ready?” Beauchamp said. “This effort is all about how we can get as much of those things in place when this hits its peak.”
Klohs calls the task force a way to help “rally” local manufacturing acumen to the cause.
As a regional economic development organization, The Right Place “looks out for all of that supply chain” and knows the capabilities of producers across the region. The Right Place has received inquiries for companies looking to join the battle, but were unsure of where to turn, Klohs said.
“Companies came to us and raised their hand and said, ‘I think we can do this. Can somebody talk to me?’ And it snowballed from there,” she said. “Then Norm and I connected and we said, ‘How do we rally all of that supply chain?’”
From there, the task force was created to serve as a conduit between health systems and companies that can produce and provide what they need. The group gives local health systems seeking supplies and equipment during the emergency a single contact point for local resources.
“It’s been pretty amazing who’s raised their hand and the things we’ve been able to pull together,” said Klohs, who likens the group as a “triage team” at a hospital.
“It’s a great collaborative and it really shows off why West Michigan works,” she said. “This is the time when we really need (manufacturers) and I really hope that this is also a lesson for the future. All of these things, we need to make ourselves going forward so we don’t have to wait for the supply chain out of God knows where for 12 weeks.”
The groups that came together in the last week initially sought to identify “the most essential needs” of health systems, which are mostly related to procuring personal protection equipment for health care workers, said Eric Icard, senior business development manager for The Right Place.
“From there, we went to work and really tried to quantify the needs of the region,” Icard said.
Among the early examples of the work:
- The Right Place contacted John Kennedy at Autocam Medical, who was able to use the company’s supply chain to source high-filtration masks from China for local health care workers.
- After The Right Place got a call this week from Kent County, HexArmor Inc., a Grand Rapids-based producer of personal protective equipment, was able to provide 4,500 pairs of protective eye glasses that it had in stock for first responders.
- Primera Plastics Inc. in Zeeland is able to make and supply needed face shields.
- A local distiller is now making hand sanitizer.
- Keystone Solutions Group in Kalamazoo is preparing to produce a nasal swab needed for COVID-19 test kits. Icard learned that Spectrum Health was running low on the swabs and reached out to Keystone Solutions owner Jim Medsker.
The effort can result in more than helping get needed equipment and supplies to health systems. Companies that shift their production also qualify as a critical infrastructure business that can remain in operation during the state’s stay-home order, and allows them to keep working as other sectors begin faltering from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
“We have small companies that in their current industry may be slowing down, and for them, being able to pivot to that need will help these companies stay vital through this downturn in their given markets,” Beauchamp said.
Klohs sees an added peripheral long-term benefit from the initiative out of creating a broader and deeper local supply chain for health care providers.
“If we can bring these companies not just this new business for now, but can we make some of these things in these businesses for the long term so they have a different industry to supply, that would be a great benefit for the whole region and for the companies individually,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Eric Icard at The Right Place Inc. is coordinating the task force. He can be contacted at [email protected].