COVID-19 is Changing the Northland’s Business Environment

 Mandates limiting person-to-person contact have challenged business owners to think differently about how they can maintain operations and keep employees working while maintaining health and safety every step of the way. Plus, many businesses are pitching in with resourceful manufacturing, supply chain, and delivery solutions to support our healthcare providers and other essential services to stay safe and viable. Every day, we hear new examples of innovative ways to transform businesses during this challenging time. We invite you to explore the examples below for inspiration, and then share your powerful ideas and successes in our Business Forum. 

Local Case Studies


Enbridge’s leadership team began monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak in January, preparing to prevent employee exposure and making plans to help halt the spread of the virus. The company enacted work-at-home plans across the organization starting Tuesday, March 17 for those who were able, and at the same time implemented procedures to ensure the integrity of operations and the health of employees working in 24-hour Control and Call Centers.

“COVID-19 has created an extraordinary set of circumstances and challenges. As a company and a team that is part of thousands of communities across North America, Enbridge is doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of our employees and the public,” said Trent Wetmore, Director of Midwest LP Operations. “Nothing is more important.”

All work at Enbridge follows the latest guidance provided by local, federal, and international public health and government authorities to protect workers and communities. All Enbridge contractors must have a project safety plan and a pandemic plan in place for all project sites as well as all contractors and subcontractors under their control. As a rule:

  • Any worker confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, or in contact with a person who has been infected with COVID-19, will not be allowed access to the worksite and will be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days.
  • Wherever possible, contractors must safely transport any personnel who exhibit signs of COVID-19 to their point of origin for treatment as opposed to using a local medical facility.

Contractors must also have hazard management measures in place on-site to minimize the potential for spreading COVID-19. These include increased implementation of universal cold and flu precautions (handwashing, sanitizing), social distancing, site hygiene, and deep cleaning protocols.

Meanwhile, Enbridge teams are reaching out to those deeply impacted by the pandemic. Enbridge is working with nonprofit community partners, Indigenous and Tribal neighbors, and local governments to identify where resources are needed most – including food banks, social service agencies, mental health organizations, first responders, and healthcare providers.   

altecWhen it became clear that COVID-19 had evolved into a worldwide pandemic, leadership at Altec wasted no time putting plans in place to keep their associates safe and maintain operations. An industry-leading provider of heavy equipment for essential industries like electric utility and telecommunications, Altec couldn’t put services – let alone hundreds of employees – on hold for the foreseeable future.

“We had to move quickly to keep our associates safe while operating effectively,” explained David Faynik, Altec Duluth General Manager. “We are committed to keeping our doors open. Our customers are working through this pandemic, and so must we.”

Beginning in early March 2020, Altec implemented strategies to shift workplace norms and adopt recommended safe practices to limit the spread of COVID-19. The challenge? Keeping a large manufacturing team working in small teams of 10 or less. 

By reorganizing workers on each shift into five designated zones, Altec was able to limit person-to-person contact on the manufacturing floor. Additionally, wearing masks, staggering lunch breaks, and moving salaried employees offsite helped to keep employees safe without slowing production. Altec encouraged virtual meetings via Microsoft Teams whenever practical and outlined a step-by-step process for addressing quarantine best practices.

Giant Voices

giant voicesGiant Voices is a strategic marketing firm that represents national clients across a wide variety of industries. From technology to manufacturing, industrial development to natural resources, many clients have turned to their strategic marketing partner for assistance in communicating critical updates to clients, employees and stakeholders - in addition to service offerings and operations.

“Our work shifted overnight, and our team stayed flexible and nimble to accommodate and adapt,” said Lisa Bodine, Giant Voices President. “As schools closed and social distancing became essential, we worked quickly to enable all of our team to work from home.”

Giant Voices' leadership worked proactively to ensure employees could complete their work anywhere. The challenge? Keeping teams and clients connected in a time of constant change.

With client work in flux, many projects slowed while other crisis communication efforts ramped-up and demanded immediate attention. Leveraging tools like Google Hangouts, Zoom and Microsoft Teams is not foreign to the Giant Voices team, as the company supports clients from throughout the country. The teams’ experience and comfort with technology helped maintain solid communication with clients to keep projects moving forward. 

Within several days of the initial COVID-19 pandemic, the Giant Voices team began brainstorming ideas to help clients think about their business differently. Staff augmentation, which allows clients to leverage an experienced fractional marketing manager or administrative assistant, and sales and marketing alignment consulting which helps teams get laser-focused on sales, are two examples of how Giant Voices can immediately activate for clients in need of assistance.

The Giant Voices office remains “virtually” open even after the State of Minnesota announced an executive order to stay home from the Governor's office. With employees proactively positioned to work from home, business is able to continue as ‘usual’ under this new normal.

Innovation around the Nation

Cirrus Aircraft

Pioneer Press - Cirrus Aircraft shifted production to design a battery-powered air-purifying respirator for local hospitals in response to shortages of personal protective equipment.

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Sweet Exchange

FOX 21 - Lisa Quarles, owner of Sweet Exchange in Duluth, is spreading joy with a side of wellness by delivering cakes, cupcakes and homemade cloth masks

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Upcoming Fund from US Chamber Fund

Funded by corporate and philanthropic partners, and an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Save Small Business Fund is a collective effort to provide $5,000 grants to as many small employers as possible

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FDA approves U of M 'MacGyver'-esque ventilator

MSP-St. Paul Buisness Journal -The Coventor, the University of Minnesota's low-cost ventilator, has received authorization by the FDA.

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Chamber members leading by example in COVID-19 fight

The Minnesota Chamber is incredibly proud and grateful for how our members have stepped up during the COVID-19 crisis to help their communities, fill supply needs and care for first responders. 

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Coronavirus In Minnesota:

Local Companies In ‘Full-Court Press’ To Manufacture Medical Products To Fight COVID-19

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As people hunker down during the COVID-19 outbreak, Minnesota companies are stepping up.

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One Minnesota:  

Businesses Doing Good

Minnesota pulls together in times of need. Here are companies we've found doing extraordinary things during this time.

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Northland Steps Up:

Duluth company prepares to make emergency hospital bed supply

DULUTH, MN (KBJR) -- Another Duluth manufacturing company is looking to transform its normal operations into something that helps the ongoing COVID-19 fight.

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Frost River 

Frost River has pivoted production from bags to masks and other protective equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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Ford is working with 3M and GE Healthcare to produce medical equipment and protective gear for healthcare workers to help address shortages in the fight against the coronavirus.

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Valenti & Co.

In response to California’s shelter in place order, Valenti & Co., a small Italian restaurant, began offering takeout with a side of the restaurant’s surplus of much-needed household products. 

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Vikre Distillery

Vikre Distillery has maintained a strong social media presence during COVID-19, and joined several distilleries nationwide to distill and give away sanitizer amid this crisis.

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Cantilever Distillery

Minnesota’s newest distillery opened its doors earlier this year and quickly pivoted operations to make and donate alcohol-based disinfectant to local medical facilities, first response agencies, and people on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Duluth Restaurants

Coronavirus hasn’t stopped all Duluth restaurants from feeding the community. Many have embraced takeout and delivery options that are helping keep doors open and employees on payroll.

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