Reprinted from the Columbus Telegram – Date: March 6, 2021

Working Through Strange Times

Amid a pandemic quar­antine that gave new meaning to the phrase ‘work from home,’ re­mote work has not been a luxury afforded to most manufacturing employees.

“It’s tough to have that happen in a manufacturing setting be­cause the machines are here, the products are here:’ Duo Lift Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ben Hellbusch said. Duo Lift, 2810 38th St. in Co­lumbus, designs and manufactures trailers and running gears. “Most of our staff is manufacturing so working from home doesn’t really work for us:’ Hellbusch said.

Luckily, manufacturers in Colum­bus have been hir­ing all throughout the pandemic.

Compared to where they were during January 2020, employment numbers for several Columbus manufacturers were virtually unchanged at the end of the year.

In Columbus, BD Medical, Be­hlen Mfg. Co., Valmont, Duo Lift and Central Confinement Service said they have not had any pandemic-related layoffs.

Central Confinement, 23321 235th Ave. in Columbus, nor­mally produces turn-key animal agricultural facilities. But, Central Confinement President Brian Turner said the company’s Mid-Plains Indus­tries division’s idea to produce and market Protek-Shields – plexiglass shields like the ones that have been installed at cash registers and front offices around the country came out of a conver­sation about how to avoid layoffs.

“We’ve sold screens all the way out to New Jersey. But our first one was at H&R Block here in Columbus;’ Turner said.

Central Confinement actually hired people in temporary positions for a while.

“We’ve devel­oped more products along that line because you never know how long this is going to last. We think there’s going to be something now for quite a while;’ Turner said.

A similar thing happened at Behlen in Columbus, 4025 E. 23rd St., when the company temporarily brought some furloughed Archer Daniels Midland workers on board at the end of the summer.

“We tried to provide some part­-time positions for those people to help with income,” Behlen Coun­try Farm & Ranch Equipment President Jen Miller said.

A lot of those kinds of solutions required thinking outside the box, Behlen Director of Human Re­sources Jen Knowlton said.

On top of adapting business practices for a world experiencing a pandemic, day-to-day work­place habits have had to change.

Starting in March, most manufacturing facilities in Columbus have focused on masking, social distancing and sanitization pol­icies.

As COVID-19 began to sweep across the United States, many of them also limited the number of entrances to their facilities to ensure everyone was undergo­ing screening and temperature checks.

Local health officials and organizations have been instrumental in that respect.

Behlen Chairman and CEO Phil Raimondo said the company has relied on Occupational Health to help with screenings. The East-Central District Health Department has also been a vital resource, Raimondo said.

“They’ve just been wonderful and very helpful,” Raimondo said.

Even with the protocols in place, every manufacturer who spoke to the Telegram said they have had employees test positive for COVID-19.

“In these situations, we have responded swiftly and conducted rigorous cleaning of potentially contaminated areas, notified anyone who may have been in close contact with the individual, and required that the individual self-quarantine:’ said BD Medical Corporate Communications in a prepared statement.

Luckily, workspaces in man­ufacturing set-ups are often al­ready socially distanced.

“For example, welders typically have their own workstations, and many of our products are very large, which naturally increases the distance between people,” a Feb. 5 email from Valmont Corporate Communications said.

Valmont began manufacturing electric utilities at its Columbus location, 1600 E. 29th Ave., in 2013.

Social distancing helps keep people healthy but it has also re­quired employers to find creative ways to keep morale up.

Box lunches and meals in take­out containers have replaced communal meals in several facil­ities, including Valmont’s.

The Behlen cafeteria changed to takeout only as a COVID-19 control measure. The groups that used to gather there for card games and conversation during meals and breaks have not been present.

Stand-ins have been necessary in cases where there would normally be a company Christmas party or cookout.

At Duo Lift, Hellbusch said it’s been very important to keep lines of communication open with employees and customers. The em­phasis on open communication is something the manufacturer plans to hold onto.

In the meantime, especially during the hardest months of the pandemic so far, Hellbusch said the team at Duo Lift has tried to focus on the positives.

“We’re extremely pleased with the volume of business that we have:’ Ben said. “We’ve actually had a positive increase!’

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at molly.hunter@lee.net.

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