Sen. Amy Klobuchar says there is nothing stopping federal lawmakers from reaching a deal on a coronavirus relief package and taking a proposal to the White House.
And when that happens, the input from Central Minnesota businesses in St. Cloud, Little Falls, and Stacy, Minnesota will be figured into the legislation.
Klobuchar led a conference call Friday, Nov. 6 with Dan Ortloff, president of Falls Fabricating in Little Falls, Traci Tapani, co-president of Wyoming Machine in Stacy, Rob Dubow, president of Dubow Textile in St. Cloud and Jeff Wig, vice president for entrepreneurship at the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation. Mike Maher, president of Monticello-based Karlsburger Foods was also slated to participate in the call but was unavailable.
Traci Tapani of Wyoming Machine said it was business as usual at her business during the early days of the pandemic. But Wyoming Machine eventually switched gears towards building upon the skills of its workforce so the company is ready for out nation’s recovery from the pandemic.
Wyoming Machine met the early days of the pandemic head-on with plenty of work at the Stacy-based manufacturing facility as the company manufactured components for ventilators and components used in the packaging of COVID-19 test kits, Tapani said. Wyoming Machine employees came to work and wanted to work hard despite the $600 bonus in unemployment benefits that was being offered to workers at the time.
“They still wanted to work,” she said.
Working allowed Wyoming Machine employees to keep their dignity and mental well-being by being connected to work, Tapani added.
As the pandemic went on, Wyoming Machine put programs in place that allowed its employees to further develop their skills. The company did this through a remote education program through Pine Technical & Community College in Pine City.
“We will be ready when recovery happens,” Tapani said.
In St. Cloud at Dubow Textile, the coronavirus has resulted in a roller coaster-like ride for the manufacturer of custom designed clothing and other custom printed products.
“We had 204 employees when the pandemic hit and within a two-week period we had dropped to 135 employees,” said Rob Dubow, president of Dubow Textile.
Dubow Textile received PPP funds that allowed the company to keep its employees working.
“Our 135 employees has now grown to 281 as business has moved online,” Dubow said.
Dubow Textile is currently experiencing some of the greatest growth in its company history as demand has increased not only across the county, but the world, Dubow said.
Dan Ortloff, president of Falls Fabricating in Little Falls, said in the early days of the pandemic it was essential to Falls Fabricating that its employees kept coming to work.
Through the use of the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Falls Fabricating was able to keep its 95 employees working up until June. Furloughs later became necessary as funds ran out.
The company lost five employees last week after testing positive for COVID-19. That was the first time since the pandemic began that Falls Fabricating was impacted by the virus in terms of employees contracting the virus, Ortloff said.
Falls Fabricating and Dubow Textile told Klobuchar that their businesses are being impacted by both the availability of COVID-19 tests and the wait in obtaining COVID-19 test results.
The wait-times for test results is often keeping valuable employees away from work while they quarantine while waiting for their test results- the majority of which are negative.
“It’s a challenge for us,” Dubow said. “We need our employees working.”
Ortloff agreed, saying that its frustrating that it takes days to get back test results.
Dubow said adding to his frustration is the fact that a private clinic in St. Cloud offers a 15-minute rapid COVID test to its patients, yet the government and local hospital offers no such rapid testing.
“Rapid testing is imperative to bring to market,” Dubow said. “I think that will solve a lot of businesses’ issues.”
Tapani favors assistance in allowing businesses to offer COVID-19 testing in their own facilities, or the formation of coalitions of businesses that could work together in providing tests with results that would be available more quickly.
“That would be very helpful,” Klobuchar said.
The business leaders stressed that the availability of more rapid-testing is essential to the long-term success of their companies during the coronavirus pandemic.
Klobuchar said she is focused on providing businesses with additional relief until a COVID-19 vaccine comes out. Part of that, Klobuchar said, includes making available more rapid-testing for COVID-19.
Klobuchar noted that it the latter half of last week, she personally had conversations with 13 Republican senators over a two-day period, in addition to talking with many senators from her own Democratic party.
“There is nothing stopping us from getting a deal done and taking it to the White House,” Klobuchar said.
“Let’s get it done,” the Senator said.