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July 9, 2020

5/6/2020 2:13:00 PM
Adapting to the 'new' normal
Local industries produce, develop products to fulfill needs
Dave Gerth, Jennings County EMS director, shows a display of recent donations from members of the community, as well items from local businesses to help first responders protect themselves from contracting COVID-19. Paper face masks, along with handmade cloth masks for adults and children,were donated by Debbie See, Patti Everroad, Jacqueline Thompson, Andrea Gerth and Brenda Mattingly. Face shields were donated by SuperATV in Madison, and by North Vernon Mayor Mike Ochs. Hand sanitizer was also donated by the Bear Wallow Distillery in Nashville. Gerth also wanted to thank Patti Yount, who had pizzas delivered to the EMS staff on Friday and Saturday night two weeks ago, and McDonald’s and KFC, which are providing free meals to on-shift first responders. – Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin
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Dave Gerth, Jennings County EMS director, shows a display of recent donations from members of the community, as well items from local businesses to help first responders protect themselves from contracting COVID-19. Paper face masks, along with handmade cloth masks for adults and children,were donated by Debbie See, Patti Everroad, Jacqueline Thompson, Andrea Gerth and Brenda Mattingly. Face shields were donated by SuperATV in Madison, and by North Vernon Mayor Mike Ochs. Hand sanitizer was also donated by the Bear Wallow Distillery in Nashville. Gerth also wanted to thank Patti Yount, who had pizzas delivered to the EMS staff on Friday and Saturday night two weeks ago, and McDonald’s and KFC, which are providing free meals to on-shift first responders. – Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin
County’s jobless numbers unknown
At a time when more than 30 million Americans have filed new unemployment claims in the past few weeks, knowing that some plants are not only operating at full capacity but hiring more employees is good news.

In the wake of shut-downs and stay-home orders, a county-by-county breakdown of state unemployment numbers is not available, said Kathy Ertel, executive director of the Jennings County Economic Development Commission.

The U.S. Department of Labor showed Indiana's unemployment claims had topped 515,000 in the previous five weeks, since the governor first issued stay-at-home orders for those working jobs deemed nonessential.

Ertel said a county-by-county breakdown of jobs lost, so far, is not available.

"Locally, I wish I had a crystal ball," she said, but credited the resilience of Jennings County employers, residents and even the school district, particularly Superintendent Teresa Brown, who has coordinated weekly task force meetings online, bringing together county and city government officials, as well as business leaders and organizations.

Still, good things may come from the bad.

"When you shine a light on our inadequacies, then you can improve," she said. One example is the county's lack of broadband accessibility in more remote areas was a hurdle for schools to continue teaching students online. In an April interview, Brown stated that 30 percent of Jennings County students do not have access to the internet.

"Jennings has a need, and I think that's going to see more money coming from the state or federal funding to address broadband," Ertel predicted.

Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention - especially in times of crisis.

In Jennings and surrounding counties, manufacturers are finding ways to adapt in the era of COVID-19, not just to keep employees working, but also to provide personal protective gear, known as PPE, for medical and healthcare workers, as well as other businesses, to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which so far has claimed the lives of three Jennings County residents.

For example, Layman Fabrication on North Fourth Street, North Vernon, is designing a product to allow people to open doors with their feet, rather than their hands.

"We had a couple of requests for them," said co-owner Kyle Layman. Interested customers had even provided photographs of other models to show what it was they wanted. "Several people have ordered them."

The company also is producing face shields for eye doctors and plastic standing shields to help protect receptionists and others who must deal with patients and the public one-on-one.

"It keeps us busy," he said, adding that while the facility had closed briefly in March because of the pandemic, all 17 employees are back at work and construction of their new facility is moving forward again.

His employees are on the lookout for other products they may be able to make as the pandemic continues. "Everything changes every day. We're doing whatever we can do," he said.

Decatur Mold is one local company that has purchased Layman's foot-operated door openers, said Rhonda Hoerle, who became president of the company last year. Founded by her father in 1966, Decatur Mold usually builds injection molds for clients in the automotive and appliance industries.

But that was before.

"We've made a huge shift toward designing molds for clients who need to produce medical and safety equipment," mostly PPE needed for mitigation efforts to slow the spread of the virus, including products used for air purification, Hoerle said.

While Decatur Molding has the capability to outsource to plants in China, when clients are asked if they want their equipment produced there, "the answer is, resoundingly, no."

"It's mostly logistics," she said. Producing the equipment in Jennings County means a quicker turn-around for their clients, and reduced shipping costs.

New business opportunities

Employees at Decatur Mold also have designed a mold so that they, too, can produce face shields for dentists hospitals and first responders, people who work in the courts, and others.

So far, they've donated as many as 1,500 face shields, which cost about $5 to $6 to make. "It gives us the opportunity to be part of all of this," Hoerle said. "Our people have really stepped up," for the community and for each other.

Because many of the company's employees have worked there 25 or 30 years, "we're like a family. They're afraid, but they're conscientious. Everyone has shown up for each other and is wearing face masks."

In neighboring Jefferson County, SuperATV founder Harold Hunt said his company began producing PPE in March, including the now common free-standing polycarbonate countertop guards, mostly used by retail cashiers.

"It was an easy transition," Hunt said. The polycarbonate material for the shields are the same as that used by SuperATV to produce aftermarket products, such as crack-resistant windscreens for all-terrain vehicles. He added that Royer, in downtown Madison, also has switched production from their signature novelty drink stirrers to making face shields.

The cost structure and accessibility already are in place for the materials needed, he said.

SuperATV is also one of many companies that have donated PPE, such as the full-face guards being used by medical personnel on the frontlines, including the Jennings County EMS, and dental office staff.

"We're scrambling to come up with new ideas for (PPE) for use in boardrooms and also barriers for floor workers on the manufacturing lines, Hunt said. Machines also have been set up in his new facility, Armor Plastics, where the former Armor Metals plant was located.

"We're actually employing everyone, and hiring a few more," Hunt said.

As for reopening the economy in Indiana, Kathy Ertel, executive director of the Jennings County Economic Development commission observed, "We've been open. It's just a matter of opening up more."





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