America was slapped upside the face in late winter when the COVID-19 pandemic showed up. Nothing was as apparent as the lack of personal protective equipment available to both health care workers and the general public.
In some cases, federal intervention was needed force corporations to switch from making their normal products to building equipment which could be used to fight the virus and it’s relentless assault. Companies like 3M, General Motors and many others were reluctant to discontinue normal operations until the Defense Production Act was invoked.
In many more cases, industries voluntarily retooled to produce virus fighting supplies. No segment of America’s “industrial” base stepped up more whole-heartedly than the outdoor industry. Many companies quickly donated their supplies of N95 masks, respirators, face shields, gloves and sanitizer to COVID hotspots where they were needed immediately and in short supply.
Others “rejiggered” their manufacturing capabilities to enable the country to address the shortages of facemasks, sanitizers, respirators and other supplies. Since we’re far from out of the woods as far as coronavirus goes, it appears many of those companies will continue to churn out those medical essentials until sufficient supplies are on hand to meet this, and future, health concerns.
One of the first to step up was PRADCO a fishing products manufacturer headquartered in Ft. Smith, AK. This is normally one of the busiest times of the year for company’s segment of the outdoor industry when production of lures and fish attractants would be in high gear. Most parts of the U.S. are open for fishing and many places are reporting increased fishing activities since a large portion of the population are sheltering and out of work. At the marinas I’ve been visiting, Wednesday is the new Saturday, it seems.
PRADCO retooled their plastic lure molding capability to pumping out face shields out of the same materials originally destined to become a Rebel Minnow or Heddon Spook. They also make lures infused with YUM bait attractant as well as YUM liquid/gel which can be applied to any lure. That production line switched to producing YUM hand sanitizer.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, Smith & Wesson firearms company joined the effort by donating 10,000 pairs of protective eyewear to Baystate Health. That was followed by 300 face shields for the Police and Fire Departments and the Health Department’s homeless medical operation.
Those supplies were products they had on hand for their own use. Smith and Wesson then adapted manufacturing facilities in Springfield and Deep River, Connecticut, to produce protective face shields. Today, their 3-D printers which used to help them in rapid prototyping and part mockups are churning out face shields.
S&W’s pivot of manufacturing capabilities is being echoed across a variety of companies, and outdoor segments.
The Brunswick Boat division of Brunswick Corporation donated thousands of industrial face masks to first responders. Now, it’s using its upholstering capabilities to make masks at at manufacturing facilities in Florida, Tennessee and Washington State.
Some companies have learned their existing products have applications in the Virus Wars just as they are. Wildhorn Outfitters makes several products, but are best known for snorkeling and water sports. With just a tiny adaptation, their full face snorkeling mask is being used as a protective face mask for health care workers and is being tested as an emergency respirator.
ScentLok, who makes no-scent clothing for hunters, also makes ozone generators to deactivate odors on gear and clothing. Ozone is a proven disinfectant for coronavirus and people and businesses are putting them to use as an effect alternate way to decontaminate clothes and hard to clean surfaces.
These few companies are not the only ones donating equipment, time, money, and personnel, but they are typical of how ingenuity and adaptability aren’t dead in the U.S. and how outdoor oriented business are often leading the way.