Since March 2020, Tampa Bay area residents, businesses and communities have been gripped by COVID-19, which has disrupted lives and business operations. As it stands for the world, there is the “before” and “after” of the pandemic and a collective hope to arrive at a “new normal” way of living. Crisis responses have varied from the brave, who stood strong on the front lines, to the innovators who listened to the community and developed products to keep people in the Tampa Bay area safe.
Here are four Tampa Bay area businesses, big and small, that dared to change business operations in response to the crisis and thrived in the process.
Kerriann Greenhalgh, founder and chief executive officer and chief strategy officer of KeriCure, a natural wound-care company, did not intend to join efforts against the pandemic until there was a shortage of sanitizer products. Greenhalgh said it was her manufacturing partner that reminded her of a moisturizing hand sanitizer formula, that she developed years ago as a stalled order for CVS.
After a post on her sister’s New Jersey neighborhood Facebook page, 200 orders were placed that day and KeriCure evolved into a moisturizing hand sanitizer hub.
“It was a hectic, crazy, time launching the sanitizer products at the beginning of the pandemic but knowing that we were able to help provide a critical item that could keep people healthy, and safe, made it all worth it,” Greenhalgh says.
As the pandemic intensified, the need for safety measures became more urgent. Ben Walker, CEO of Buyer’s Point in Largo, had the foresight to pivot business practices early when a vendor from Shenzhen, China alerted him to the spread of COVID-19.
For 10 years, Buyer’s Point sold video/audio supplies in Largo. Before COVID-19 reached the United States, at the advice of Chinese business partners, Walker ordered 500,000 masks with the guiding principle of social responsibility. Walker’s sense of timing had an overwhelming community response. Buyer’s Point sold masks to the state of Florida and retail stores. Meanwhile, Walker remained committed to social responsibility, saying his company did not price gouge and remained transparent, even charitable, in a time of need.
He hired employees that were laid off because of the pandemic as operations expanded and made donations of masks to local nonprofits. He also gave out 500 packs of 10 masks each to residents disproportionately affected.
On a micro level, owner-operated businesses were taking a strong stance against the ravages of the COVID-19 on the Tampa Bay area community. On a macro level, manufacturers and health organizations were committed to innovations of ingenuity and keeping people safe and well.
According to Shawn Kitchell, CEO of Madico, it was a bit of a story on how the manufacturing plant began to produce protective face shields during the pandemic. Madico is a 117-year-old manufacturer of a wide range of coated, and laminated, products sold in 140 countries. The company’s diverse portfolio includes an array of products from aircraft insulating materials to decorative window films.
In the early days of the pandemic, Madico realized the severe shortages of important, personal protective equipment for health care professionals and emergency responders. Given that the organization’s manufacturing takes place in clean-room environments, it was a natural leap to donate face masks and cleanroom suits. For the donations to go to the greatest need, Madico connected with the Pinellas County Economic Development Council.
As a result of involvement with the council, Madico collaborated with other local manufacturers, health care professionals and emergency responders for a strategic pivot of business operations to produce medical-related items for critical shortages. Within a month, from conception to production, Madico was able to produce 10,000 face shields a day. Such successful execution has enabled Madico to sell face shields for personal use, develop face shields prototypes for children and even set up an Amazon store.
“On the business front, those segments with sales channels through retail stores saw the largest drop in business due to the stay at home orders, while our business-to-business segments dropped very little. While any drop is obviously not good for our bottom-line, we approached this as an opportunity to re-evaluate our business strategies and to re-organize, internally, to better position ourselves for success in the post-COVID era,” Kitchell says. “I am a firm believer that big change is accompanied by big opportunities. I also believe that the impact that the coronavirus has will linger for many years, in ways that we never expected. With that in mind, we continued to invest in manufacturing capabilities, while at the same time adding strength to our marketing and product development organizations.”
Madico’s manufacturing adaptability, and strategy, in this time of crisis is commendable. Kitchell says on the community response, “The response was very positive. The health care professionals, and emergency responders, were very appreciative of the face shields, our willingness to help and the speed with which we were able to respond. It gives us a lot of satisfaction to walk into a doctor’s office or a retail store and see people wearing our shields.”
Likewise, the people on the frontlines of the pandemic are heroic—the health care workers, and organizations that support them such as AdventHealth. An interview with the president and CEO of Advent West Florida Division, Mike Schultz, illuminates the amount of hard work and dedication it takes to pivot a large health care organization during the pandemic.
“Safety is always our top priority,” Schultz says. “From the start, we were focused on how critical it was for our team members to have the necessary personal protective equipment and to put protocols in place that would protect our team members, patients and community. “
AdventHealth’s commitment to safety began right away with establishing rigid guidelines such as screening, limiting visitors and requiring masks. Elective procedures were postponed under the governor’s executive order. AdventHealth also began to meet patients where they were, at home, by expanding telemedicine and virtual visits.
Further investments included: technology such as foot sanitizers that deliver UV cleaning mechanisms to the soles of shoes; robotic cleaning systems for operating rooms; specialized aerosols for patient rooms and ambulances and new lab technology to increase the speed of diagnosis and treatment.
AdventHealth found an opportunity, in the pandemic, to strengthen partnerships with county leaders and other health care systems. The common goal? To limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep the Tampa Bay area community safe. Effective collaboration among health care systems on providing resources, sharing data and best medical practices have strengthened the confidence of these organizations in being prepared, and flexible, for any future health crises that may arise.
The most touching aspect that Schultz shared was the community response to AdventHealth’s stance in the face of COVID-19.
“It’s been humbling to see the love, and support, from our communities, and it has had a tremendous impact on our care teams to have so many people say thank you with food, and gifts, sidewalk messages and even prayers in our parking lots,” Schultz says. “AdventHealth Foundation West Florida has established the Community Care Fund for people who want to donate and continue providing messages of hope and support to frontline workers. I can’t say enough about our teams that have navigated through the stress of this year and stayed dedicated to our mission… that strength was amplified by the public expression of gratitude from the communities we serve.”
Schultz noted that AdventHealth will continue to innovate and research treatments and medicine for COVID-19 and to remain flexible as to what the future may hold for the trajectory of COVID-19.
From a look inside these Tampa Bay area businesses, some things are certain: There is hope in the face of crisis, opportunity in the wake of danger, and incredible resourcefulness when lives in our community are on the line. From moisturizing hand sanitizer to masks shared with social responsibility in mind, small businesses pivoted with an open heart.
As for the giants in manufacturing and health care, many organizations remain committed to protecting the frontline workers, operations and the treatment of COVID-19.