Michigan’s ‘Arsenal of Innovation’ supports the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19

Courtney Overbey

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Around the globe, Michigan is known for what it can make, as home to a skilled workforce and an unparalleled work ethic. And the state’s legendary innovation is on display yet again helping the world as it works to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

Michigan boasts a proud reputation for its innovative spirit, and for stepping up when the chips are down. From putting the world on wheels more than a century ago to serving as the Arsenal of Democracy in the second World War – Michiganders have banded together time and again to solidify a legacy of resilience, innovation and Midwestern ingenuity. In 2020, as the world faces an unprecedented public health crisis, Michigan is again rising to the beat the odds as its businesses and workers unleash the state’s ‘Arsenal of Innovation’ to combat the spread of COVID-19.

With health systems around the world facing a shortage of desperately needed personal protection equipment for workers on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, businesses of all sizes throughout the state are rethinking their products and retooling their shops to provide critical support to ongoing response efforts. From donating supplies to meet critical needs, to repurposing production lines or manufacturing in-demand resources, Michigan’s businesses and workers are coming together to provide a united response in the face of this public health emergency.

Leveraging Michigan’s manufacturing heritage to support frontline healthcare workers.

Michigan is bringing its longstanding history of making things – from automobiles to life-saving drugs – and manufacturing know-how to the fight to help relieve shortages of personal protection equipment throughout the country. Companies that just a few months ago were making tents, engines and hydraulic filter cartridges have pivoted to drive-through tents for Covid-19 screening, respirators and surgical masks.

Image courtesy of TentCraft.

In the northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula, Calumet Electronics is now working around the clock to meet the demands of the healthcare industry by producing circuit boards for ventilators. Further south, Petoskey Plastics is working with the state to produce isolation gowns for hospitals thanks to connections made by the Pure Michigan Business Connect Virtual Procurement and Donation Platform.

In Traverse City, TentCraft, Inc. had never manufactured products for the healthcare or medical industry. But after receiving a PMBC COVID-19 Emergency Access and Retooling Grant, the company was able to pivot toward these new products, helping to keep their workers on the job while producing PPE products needed by frontline healthcare workers.

The Big Three Automakers are also retooling to support COVID-19 response efforts. Ford Motor Co. is partnering with 3M to develop respirators at its Vreeland facility and is leading efforts to manufacture reusable gowns for healthcare workers. General Motors is increasing production of face masks at its Warren facility and sharing its plans with suppliers and the Michigan Manufacturers Association to help others ramp up their own production efforts. And Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is manufacturing and donating millions of face masks to police, EMTs, firefighters and hospital and healthcare clinic workers on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.

Image courtesy of General Motors.

The Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center (ISAIC) out of Detroit, which has already been working with local and state leaders to attract and train apparel businesses and workers, is now pivoting its training and manufacturing efforts from apparel to isolation gowns to address the shortage of PPE. In doing so, ISAIC is able to hire and train more employees than expected, with its apprentices earning experience that will allow them to attract US retailers to Detroit once the outbreak ends.

Meanwhile, in Kalamazoo, Schupan Aluminum and Plastic Sales is producing an intubation box to protect frontline healthcare workers serving COVID-19 patients. And in Harbor Beach, the cartridge manufacturer National Filters, is purchasing equipment necessary to increase surgical mask production from 250 per day to 7,200 masks per hour along with 2,000 N95 respirators each hour as a result of collateral support from the state’s Capital Access program. Together, these businesses are turning hardships into opportunities to support both their workforce and frontline healthcare workers in the face of COVID-19.

Distilleries shift distribution from spirits to sanitizer.

Around the country, shops, workplaces and healthcare centers are facing shortages of hand sanitizer due to the public health outbreak. In response, Michigan’s distilleries are setting aside their traditional spirits and shifting their production lines to develop bacteria-killing hand sanitizer for individual consumers and bulk customers including local communities and hospitals. From Coppercraft Distillery in Holland donating nearly 10,000 gallons of sanitizer to hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the region, to Valentine Distilling Co. in Ferndale teaming up with Griffin Claw Brewing Co. in Birmingham to bottle nearly 8,000 containers of hand sanitizer in recent weeks – Michigan’s distilleries are retooling their production lines to help fill shortages of necessary supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

In all corners of the state and across all industries, Michiganders are joining together to find innovative ways to use every resource available – from know-how and grit to financial support and state-led procurement efforts – to support the health and safety of our state’s health care workers and their families during this unprecedented public health crisis.

Because in Michigan, we know what it means to come together in the face of adversity; we know that we all must do our part, and we do whatever it takes to save lives and support our communities.

To learn more about the resources available for businesses and workers throughout the state, visit michiganbusiness.org/covid19.


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