This article appeared in the June 2020 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
On 3/10/20, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) identified the state’s first two presumptive-positive cases of COVID-19, the Coronavirus — a respiratory illness which had spread quickly around the world since its initial detection in Wuhan City, China. In the months since, life has drastically shifted. Phrases like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” have become commonplace and everyone from the elderly to schoolchildren have learned to make a cloth mask from household items.
“I think we can all say that 2020 has not been the year we thought it was going to be,” said John J. Walsh, MMA President & CEO. “COVID-19 has come to represent both a health risk and an economic one. There is still much work to be done to regain the losses that our members and their employees have endured over recent months but I am confident that manufacturers will drive the economic recovery of our state and nation.”
Walsh continued, saying that, “from the very beginning, manufacturers have shown incredible resilience and have persevered in the face of something never before seen. History will show that the manufacturing industry was key to addressing the health and economic disaster caused by COVID-19.”
The Immediate Response to COVID-19: The State, in D.C., and at MMA
Once cases appeared in the US, the situation developed at a pace faster than expected and never before experienced. In just days, everything spiraled.
On 3/13/20, President Donald J. Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency effective 3/1/20. Governor Gretchen Whitmer similarly declared a state of emergency for Michigan that same week. Soon after, Executive Orders followed; one after another and sometimes multiple orders in a day. In just the first few weeks, the number of orders issued related to the COVID-19 crisis would surpass those issued by any other administration in the state’s history. The Whitmer executive orders affected much of everyday life — prohibiting large assemblies, restrictions on non-essential medical procedures, extensions on tax filing deadlines — but it was Executive Order 2020-21 that shook Michigan’s economy.
Michigan’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order was announced on 3/23/20 and began at 12:01 a.m. the following day. Through multiple extensions, it stayed in effect well past Memorial Day. Individuals were restricted to their homes and only critical infrastructure work necessary to sustain or protect life was permitted to continue. While many manufacturers continued essential operations, many businesses closed with agonizing concern over whether they would ever reopen.
At the federal level, things moved equally fast. Relief measures and worker protections were passed at breakneck speed. There was the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which required employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide paid sick or family leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that expanded unemployment benefits, provided direct payments to households and offered tax relief and cash flow assistance to businesses. Seemingly every day new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) were released and revised.
Manufacturers that qualified as essential or were responsible for performing critical infrastructure work continued operations. Those that could expand beyond normal production reimagined how their expertise could aid in developing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies. MMA worked daily in coordination with the Whitmer Administration, the Legislature, state and federal agencies and leading law firms within our membership to help members understand and stay in compliance with the rapidly released orders and guidance.
“Our first goal was to help members access critical information, while pushing past the noise, and the MMA COVID-19 Resources did just that,” said Walsh. “When you’re facing a 24-hour news cycle with an untold number of so-called ‘experts’ presenting conflicting views, you start to feel panicked. What we did was create a single source of credible and reliable information.”
MMA’s online COVID-19 Resources offers official guidance, executive orders, environmental & regulatory resources and valuable advice from more than a dozen MMA members on issues ranging from HR to contract law.
“We heard from members that having reliable information in one central location lessened some of the pressure,” Walsh offered. “But it was these new everyday disruptions that really challenged manufacturers — workforce volatility, broken supply chains, interruptions in customer demand. Manufacturers needed relief and that was where we turned our focus to next.”
Financial Relief: Overcoming and Outlasting the Economic Disruptions
As the nation implemented aggressive virus mitigation measures, financial markets took a nose-dive and the economy began to stumble. It became clear that financial relief would be critical to helping businesses — and the global, national, and state economies —stay afloat until they could fully and safely reengage.
At MMA, two efforts were underway: the MMA COVID-19 Financial Relief Tool Kit to connect members with federal, regional, state and local relief programs and the MMA Premium Relief Program to help ease some of the financial burden as members experienced workforce disruption, supply chain problems, revenue reductions and economic upheaval in the face of the pandemic.
“Cash flow and access to capital were really the issue,” Walsh acknowledged. “With the future entirely uncertain, manufacturers facing financial constraints needed immediate access to emerging federal and state programs for financial assistance.”
The MMA COVID-19 Financial Relief Tool Kit helps manufacturers locate financial assistance through emerging federal and state programs, gain answers to common questions and get updates on existing obligations under these programs.
In a separate effort, the MMA Service Corporation (MMASC) created a first-of-its-kind Premium Relief Program to help members weather the storm. For the month of May, the MMASC used existing premium reserves to pay 50 percent of their members’ May insurance premiums on all MMA/MetLife coverages — dental, life, short-term and long-term disability and vision — an effort echoed by other groups since, including MetLife and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
“These initiatives really helped some members turn a corner from feeling like there was no future to seeing a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel,” explained Walsh. “I think it also showed them that they weren’t alone. The MMA was here for them and others were stepping up as well. It wasn’t one business or one community fighting; we were all in it and that led to so many manufacturers coming forward when the country needed them most.”
The Arsenal of Democracy: Manufacturers Respond to the Call
When the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division coordinated with MMA on developing an arsenal of critically needed personal protective equipment (PPE), the outpouring of support from members was overwhelming.
Nearly 300 companies offered an assessment of their products and manufacturing capacity, which would assist not only first responders, health care professionals and those in personal fights with COVID-19, but also all manufacturers struggling to locate the PPE required to get their businesses up and running and their team back to work.
“The response from Michigan manufacturers to the COVID-19 pandemic has been truly inspiring as countless employers have stepped up to transform their daily production to provide much-needed PPE,” said Walsh. “We didn’t see manufacturers back away from this out of fear. The uncertainty about how long this would last and the impact COVID-19 was having on their communities — it drove businesses to jump into action and ask “what can we do” and “how can we help?” When Michigan needed them most, manufacturers were right there on the front lines.”
These coordinated efforts will further connect manufacturing’s many interwoven supply chains in a time where no business, no matter how big or small, can manage to go it alone.
These efforts continue and manufacturers are encouraged to register on the Michigan Economic Development Corporation — Pure Michigan Business Connect (MEDC) list to ensure a robust and interconnected supply chain going forward. The MEDC established a portal to register both demand and supply side entities (pmbc.connect.space/covid19/forms). You can also access the MMA-Compiled List of PPE Manufacturers at mimfg.org/covid-19.
Restarting MFG During Michigan’s “New Normal”
Governor Whitmer announced Executive Order 2020-77 on 5/7/20 and manufacturers saw the first hint of the world’s new normal — when the manufacturing industry performing work outside of the “critical infrastructure” limitations of prior executive orders could return to production while managing new and specific workplace safety requirements intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The order permitted manufacturing employers to immediately perform start-up activities to incorporate specified workplace safeguards in advance of the resumption of in-person operations.
To help move manufacturing back to full-scale production as quickly as possible, MMA released MFG Tools for Safe & Productive Operations, an interactive tool kit created to help manufacturers activate their plan for business resumption.
Integrating leading safety standards articulated by the CDC, OSHA, the State of Michigan, restart playbooks from global manufacturers — Dow, Lear and Magna — and more than 40 diverse products and services, the tool kit provided manufacturers with direct contact with MMA member companies that have demonstrated a commitment to the vitality of Michigan’s manufacturing sector. The procedures and equipment outlined by this resource will help solve critical operational elements during the restart process like virus mitigation, enhanced facility disinfection, employee screening and training, financial resources, risk management and legal services.
“We have watched with awe as manufacturers all across the state have worked to pull themselves up in the face of this pandemic, but they shouldn’t have to be alone in developing a restart strategy,” Walsh explained. “The resources available in this tool kit can offer solutions and viable partners for challenges they will face in the weeks and months ahead.”
Walsh would continue, saying that “I’m optimistic for what the future holds. I’m not naïve — a full recovery won’t happen overnight. It isn’t a switch you can turn on and off, but when you look at how manufacturers have responded in the last three months — from where we were to where we are — I don’t see how you can look at it as anything other than a positive step forward.”
“While the year 2020 has certainly dealt an economic blow to Michigan and most of its manufacturers, I’ve been impressed with the response of the manufacturing industry, and in particular am honored to be an MMA member in this time of crisis,” said Bill Henderson, President of Aircraft Precision Products and Chairman of the MMA Board of Directors. “The Association continues to work with members to implement workplace safety best practices, locate PPE suppliers and qualify for financial relief. Our industry has faced challenges in the past and has risen to meet them. I see no reason why this time will be any different, especially with the continued support of the MMA.”
For more information on MMA’s efforts to support the manufacturing industry as they weather and emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and to discover ways your business can assist the industry, contact MMA’s Delaney McKinley, at 517-487-8530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.