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Lessons from a COVID-19 Shutdown and Reopening

Weldon Solutions, a manufacturer of CNC cylindrical grinders and robotic automation systems, had to close its doors for two months due to COVID-19. Now allowed to reopen, the company is taking stock of the lessons learned and a path forward during the pandemic.
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In the late afternoon of March 19, Travis Gentzler received an email stating that all non-essential businesses in the state of Pennsylvania were mandated to shut down by 8 p.m. that evening. This directive was, of course, related to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that was (and still is) sweeping across the United States and most of the world.

What he did not expect was that the company for which he serves as president and CEO, Weldon Solutions, would be categorized as a non-essential business. After all, the company manufactures CNC cylindrical grinders, robotic automation systems and automated storage and retrieval systems that were being utilized by essential, operational businesses.

“I understood the basics behind the decision,” Mr. Gentzler says, “but what it didn’t take into account at all was who your customers are. We had projects that we were working on in the food industry, automotive industry and medical industry, and unfortunately that was not considered.”

Mr. Gentzler filed an appeal to the state. When that appeal was denied, he filed a second appeal — one that included written statements from Weldon customers who testified that, because their own businesses were deemed essential, they needed Weldon to remain fully operational in order to provide support.

No dice. The state held firm to its decision.

What ensued was a period of more than two months during which nearly all of Weldon’s 40 employees worked from home, turning to aspects of the business that could be conducted remotely. This work included quoting — “a lot of quoting,” he says — as well as cataloging inventory and providing remote customer support for Weldon machine tools and software.

“We did the best we could,” Mr. Gentzler says. “But for the shop, there really wasn't anything that we could do for [those workers]. They just didn't have much to work on during the shutdown. But we tried our best. And we learned a lot.”

All of this ended when the state announced recently that it had entered a “yellow phase,” during which non-essential businesses would be allowed to reopen until further notice. This is when we reached out to Mr. Gentzler to hear about the lessons he and his staff learned, and talk about how the company has gone about the serious business of maintaining a safe work environment as COVID-19 shows little sign of abatement.

(Perhaps those lessons include simple things, like making sure the bottle of Log Cabin syrup that one of your teenage sons surreptitiously placed on the dining room table behind you has been cleared before conducting a video interview.)

To hear Mr. Gentzler’s story, watch the 10-minute interview above.

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