The coronavirus pandemic seemingly is affecting everybody, but Persona Signs of Watertown and its employees are working to make things a little more bearable in this extraordinary time.
Several Persona employees are joining other local manufactures in using their downtime to make facemasks for local healthcare facilities. And the company also is making workplaces safer for essential employees.
When Shane Conger, manager of the Hy-Vee store in Watertown, wanted to give his employees an extra level of protection against the virus, he called on Persona. Conger had already moved to make the popular grocery store safer for both customers and employees through increased disinfecting, more “social distancing,” and installing shields at all checkouts to thwart the transfer of the virus.
When he noticed that his deli and bakery workers were still being exposed more than some other workers, he asked Persona for help.
Persona immediately began designing shields that could be manufactured quickly and inexpensively, and also could be easily installed.
Les Rossman from Technical Sales and a group of Persona designers came up with the solution.
“We’re a sign company,” Rossman said, “so this project was totally different from anything we’ve done before. We just had four or five people around the table and came up with a design that we thought would work.”
The shields can be manufactured in less than an hour. In fact, Persona delivered Hy-Vee’s shields just two days after the first meeting with Conger, a turnaround time that was appreciated given the circumstances.
Persona is offering the shields to other businesses locally and across North America. The shields have been well received, with more than 300 ordered or delivered so far. Many more orders are anticipated.
“It just goes to show,” Rossman said, “that when you have the right people working on a project, you can do some pretty amazing things.”
Other Persona employees are also doing some amazing things. According to Amber Dahl, Persona’s vice-president of Human Resources, a dozen or so employees are joining other local manufacturing workers sewing masks, packaging and delivering them to the Salvation Army to be used at health care facilities in Watertown.
Three or four weeks ago, Persona’s neighbor Terex organized a group of about 20 local manufacturers to make plans for the pandemic. Weekly calls are being held with the companies, Mayor Sarah Caron, the Watertown Area Chamber of Commerce, City Attorney Matt Roby and others.
“We just started to look at different things,” Dahl said. “The city spoke on what they did when they had an infected employee, the city attorney talked about shelter-in-place orders, we heard how Gov. (Kristi) Noem is responding and what other local manufacturers are going through.”
One of the calls focused on what they manufacturers can do to help local healthcare facilities, which meant making masks for now and eventually making safety gowns.
Persona has many employees involved in making masks, delivering supplies and other tasks, and even donating money, either through the manufacturers’ group, their churches or just on their own.
“We’ve also had employees ask how they can help their co-workers,” Dahl said. “We have at least a dozen employees actively making, packaging and delivering masks right now.
“The calls with other manufacturers have been very helpful, but we were already taking steps to slow the spread of the virus. We were able to share how we shut down our break rooms, how we were making hand sanitizer available to all employees, and how we were actively disinfecting work areas.”
The old adage says every cloud has a silver lining, and Dahl didn’t have to search long to find one.
“All of our employees are really resilient people, and this is going to build more resilience,” Dahl said. “I’m grateful that I am surrounded by really good people at Persona. What I hope comes out of this is that everybody looks out for one another. We’ve always been that way, but even more so now.”