When Gov. Tim Walz stood with Ecolab CEO Doug Baker last week announcing an economic council to help the state stockpile essential equipment and devices, much work had already been done behind the scenes.
Global logistics giant C.H. Robinson, for example, said it is turning to its customs expertise and its nearly 1,000 workers in China to help Minnesota import personal protective equipment. It used its resources in Wuhan, China, to help find new suppliers for Minnesota and is helping new vendors figure out U.S. Customs and Chinese regulations, said Chris O’Brien, the Eden Prairie-based company’s chief commercial officer.
“We feel fortunate to be able to help in a crisis like this and help move things around the world,” O’Brien said.
Maplewood-based 3M’s team is helping ferret out fraudulent suppliers or products. Target helped the state develop a web-based tool that can help businesses track the health of their workforce.
And Bloomington-based filtration giant Donaldson Co. and St. Paul-based Ecolab are helping with supply-chain expertise.
“We view our best opportunity to help is with N95 masks,” Donaldson spokesman Brad Pogalz said. “We have assigned members of our highly talented procurement, operations and technical teams to identify suppliers, qualify the product and ultimately source N95 masks for people in Minnesota.”
At a news conference last week, Walz said that the company participants also include Toro, Polaris, Patterson Cos., Mayo Clinic and Target.
The effort began last month when Walz reached out to Baker, who is an executive committee member of the Minnesota Business Partnership. Baker called on partnership members to volunteer and soon had the group of corporate leaders lending staff, resources and supply contacts to the state’s effort.
“As they were shutting down some of their operations [due to the virus], they were asking how they could help the state” on a pro-bono basis, Walz said. The corporations’ involvement was pivotal because these firms understood and “ran supply chains globally with international companies.”
Walz said the state has been competing not only with other states but also other nations to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care and essential workers. Officials quickly realized they needed expert help.
In addition to creating the public-private partnership, the state has also created a dashboard that tracks how many face masks, face shields, N95 respirators, medical gowns and ventilators are in Minnesota hospitals and state warehouses.
For example, the state’s hospitals and medical warehouses have enough N95 masks for about 30 days, according to the Minnesota Department of Administration.
Walz’s efforts to create the new Critical Care Supply Working Group with local corporate leaders “is all geared toward that idea that there will be critical care equipment when needed,” Walz said. “There will be an increase in the personal protective equipment so we can expand out further and protect people throughout society. We are ramping up the supplies inside the hospitals.”
Baker, who appointed Ecolab’s Jill Wyant to lead the company’s efforts on behalf of the state, said the combined efforts of the new working group should get more supplies into hospitals.
If successful, Baker said it should help “unlock the state.”
“Because if you don’t have PPE and you don’t figure out and have the [PPE] reserves right, it’s very hard for the governor and his team to give the go-ahead to reopen the state,” Baker said.
In joining other Minnesota firms to help boost supplies in the state, “I know we saved time and effort and I am sure that we have taken days out of the [procurement process] by making it easier to onboard suppliers,” said O’Brien, of C.H. Robinson.
Donaldson’s Pogalz said diesel and industrial filters differ greatly from items such as the N95 respirators used by hospital staff.
“So we expect our contribution will more likely come from leveraging our technical capabilities and global supply chain,” he said. “That said, we are a group of innovators and will continue to look for ways to help the community.”
Staff writer Kavita Kumar contributed to this report.