Nevertheless, you persisted

Prairie manufacturers step up to the challenge of COVID-19

By Jeff Baker

Well, here we are.

As I write this, it’s just gone mid-August, and it honestly feels like summer has 1) finally settled in for a spell, 2) is quickly speeding its way out the door to make way for fall, or 3) has yet to really begin because there’s no way it’s actually any later than April. Or it’s feeling like all three of those things, and it’s just the tale of the continuing time warp that is 2020.

I’m really trying to not rehash all the same phrases that we’ve all heard ad nauseum this year: the new normal, the pandemic times, the weird times, et cetera. Frankly, I’m getting tired of them.

But how do we describe what’s happened to our world in the last six months?

This sort of global pandemic is literally a once-in-a-century happening, so there’s pretty much no one alive today who experienced the influenza pandemic that began in 1918. We’re walking in a strange new world, and it’s uncomfortable. I don’t think any of us wants to repeat this experience, ever.

You have to breathe

You probably noticed the absence of this year’s summer issue of Prairie Manufacturer Magazine. Our team certainly did. We missed getting to learn about and tell the great stories from manufacturers across the Prairies, and we missed being in touch with all of our friends and supporters who help us put together each issue.

We took the last few months to find our footing and just ‘be’ in the pandemic life. All the while, keeping our eyes and ears peeled for the stories that were starting to emerge from the Prairie manufacturing industry.

As the world turns

In the conversations we had with members of the Prairie Manufacturer community, we learned about the changes that folks were making in their businesses to maintain their usual operations, shift their businesses to directly respond to the pandemic, or some combination thereof.

It proved again that manufacturers are core to our larger world, and when the call goes out, it’s manufacturers – especially Prairie manufacturers – who will respond by jumping into action.

To call it inspiring would be an understatement.

Born this way

While working on this issue, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some very interesting and engaging folks across the Prairies, in all sorts of manufacturing contexts. Truly, it’s these conversations that are the best part of my job.

I found that so many of the manufacturers featured in this issue had a common thread of modesty and humility. That when their successes in making what is likely the biggest pivot in their careers was called out, the single most common refrain I heard was ‘it’s just what we do as manufacturers.’

I get it. I’m Prairie-born and raised myself. It’s in the blood that’s being driven by the heartbeat of this region.

Plus ça change

For the last number of months, we’ve been dealing with the changes in our world in our own individual and collective ways. For some, it’s been a case of working remotely (often from home), getting into sourdough bread, Zoom get-togethers with friends or family, getting around to watching those dozens of shows on your Netflix or Prime watchlists, or maybe even taking care of those oft-delayed home renovations.

Granted, for some, it’s been a time of working as usual, but with more stress, heightened anxiety, increased physical distance, and more protective equipment involved.

Either way, we’re spending a lot more time being in close contact with all sorts of manufactured goods in all corners of our lives instead of being in contact with other people. It’s the manufactured items that we’re relying on right now to help us return to some semblance of ‘normal’ existence. They’re keeping us safe and keeping us going.

Finding a stride

At the beginning of all this, I think people began to realise that they can’t take manufacturing for granted. It started with paper products and cleaners and moved through a variety of consumer goods; so much so that retailers and analysts were able to ‘see’ the phases of the pandemic through the order list. 

Now, we’re at the point of getting the larger economy back to business, getting students at all levels back to school, and needing to get people and goods moving again as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

It’s the manufactured goods that are letting us do all the things that help alleviate some of the discomfort of today. The masks, face coverings, plexiglass barriers, sanitizers, and all the other ‘regular’ products we use on a daily basis, are supporting us in our efforts to live and find a new way to thrive.

Can’t live without you

I guess what I’m trying to say is simply, thank you.

Thank you to the manufacturers who have kept going in this challenging time. Thank you to those who have pivoted and helped produce and distribute products outside the ‘norm.’ And thank you to each and every one of your teams that is doing their best and playing their part in whatever response has been needed.

I know we’ve barely scratched the surface on the amazing work that companies across the Prairies are doing, and we want to keep uncovering those stories that can inspire others to keep going.

If you have a story idea, or simply want to give a shout-out to a fellow manufacturer who has stepped up, please send an email my way: 

I sincerely hope to hear from you.

Until we chat again, enjoy the read.