A volunteer collaboration of Northern Colorado manufacturers, formed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, has morphed into an organization at the forefront of helping manufacturers stay in business, produce useful health-related products and give consumers confidence that businesses are operating safely.
In the process, the coalition has forged a relationship with one of the world’s largest manufacturers, Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT), to take Lockheed innovations and match them with smaller companies with the ability to bring them to market.
“The Colorado Manufacturers COVID Taskforce came to be in early March when the shutdowns started, and some electronic manufacturers didn’t think they would be considered ‘essential’ businesses” under shutdown orders, said Heidi Hostetter, one of the early organizers. Hostetter is a vice president at Arvada-based Faustson Tool Corp. and CEO of H2 Manufacturing Solutions LLC, a Longmont-based company that she founded.
“We created a pivot process where we were able to teach manufacturers who wanted to participate” how to begin to manufacture personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields. Those pivots would enable the companies to stay open and maintain their workforces.
The Warehouse Business Accelerator, based in Loveland, was brought in to help coordinate efforts. The Warehouse, a 501(c)(3), could accept contributions and provide services to businesses at no charge. And products created could be distributed to nonprofits at no charge.
“We became known as the group that was getting things done,” Hostetter said.
That reputation led to connections with statewide organizations and state government.
A marketplace formed, which could be tapped by Colorado businesses looking for PPE.
Hostetter said the coalition “had been bugging” Joe Rice, director of government relations for Lockheed, about getting involved in the effort. Lockheed, like large corporations throughout the nation, had been under pressure to join in efforts to produce health-care and safety equipment that was in short supply.
“They pulled Nelson (Dr. Nelson Pedreiro, vice president of engineering) off other projects so that he could focus on COVID products,” Hostetter said. Lockheed came up with 14 products.
“When Lockheed made the decision to disperse the technologies because they didn’t want to commercialize them, Joe remembered us and said he knew who to call.”
As a result, all 14 technologies will be dispersed to Colorado manufacturers, even though Lockheed is an international company.
The COVID taskforce then set about an effort to match specific Lockheed products with manufacturers that have the ability to commercialize them.
“We’ve been working with Lockheed on an RFP process,” said Allison Seabeck, who runs the Warehouse and has the point position on distributing the Lockheed technologies.
Manufacturers will put in proposals and how they will commercialize them. The proposals will be vetted through the coalition in collaboration with Lockheed and the winning manufacturers will go under contract to produce the innovations. Lockheed will retain ownership of the intellectual property but provide them free of charge to the winning manufacturers. No royalties would be charged, Seabeck said.
The 14 products that the Warehouse will disperse vary but are related to the pandemic. Among them are an infrared temperature monitoring system to use on people, a small enclosure to isolate a patient while being transported, and a decontamination unit that employs ultraviolet light and heat for companies and health-care providers to place equipment to be decontaminated after use.
Seabeck hopes that contributions to the 501(c)(3) will offset costs of administering the program. Manufacturers may pay consulting fees but details are yet to be determined.
Seabeck said multiple companies have shown interest in the program but inquiries have been put on hold until the RFP process is determined.
In addition to helping manufacturers stay in business during the downturn, Hostetter said the coalition found another fertile field for development, namely helping businesses reopen safely while inspiring consumer confidence.
She referenced discussions happening now in Washington, D.C., about liability protection for businesses. “We need liability protection,” Hostetter said. “Businesses are asking, ‘if someone gets it (COVID), did we do the right thing.’”
Yet businesses can’t wait for the government to determine what it will do, she said, so the coalition stepped in with a COVID safety analysis and certification product.
“My company (H2) took on a non-accredited certification. We do an analysis of a company’s operations based on CDC regulations, then we do a gap analysis to find the holes and then we tell you how to fill the holes,” she said.
“We give you a certification to post on your door,” she said, in order to give consumers confidence that the business is operating within best health and safety practices.
Companies, schools and other organizations pay for the certifications, “but we’ll work with businesses; we just want to get companies to operate safely.”
She said rural areas, in particular, are interested in the certification program. “We’ll be visiting Telluride schools next week,” she said. The program can work with any organization, not just businesses, because the regulations are the same for everyone.
If challenged, “it allows me to go into a court of law to say that I did everything I could do to make sure my business was safe,” Hostetter said.
The taskforce includes numerous manufacturers and employers in Northern Colorado. Others may also join.
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