No stranger to setbacks, Illinois manufacturer Nicole Wolter has learned to embrace uncertainty by acting quickly, gathering facts, and relying on others. Here’s how she’s responded to her state’s recent stay-at-home order.
On Friday, March 20, as soon as the precision machining business owner heard the Illinois governor release the stay-at-home order, Wolter acted to ensure that her number one priority, the employees of HM Manufacturing, would be safe and secure. Her response has made all the difference.
First, Nicole read through the order to confirm her hunch that HM Manufacturing is categorized as an essential business because it makes parts for the automotive, food and beverage, and defense industries.
Next, she notified all employees, customers, suppliers, and even prospective customers about the essential business status. Luckily, HM’s material suppliers are in the United States and Canada. Then she read through guidelines to establish safety precautions in her facility, so employees could maintain their health and safety.
First Seek, Then Act She spent the weekend contacting her nationwide network of manufacturing colleagues to share ideas to keep businesses afloat, to implement a safe work environment, and to help each other. She gained insight from resources provided by the National Manufacturers Association (NAM), the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA), the Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Before opening, she asked employees who could work from home to do so. For the machinists who must work in the facility, she printed letters for them to carry stating they work for an essential business. She also posted essential business signs on the doors to the facility, hung signs to remind employees to wash their hands for 20 seconds, worked with the supervisor to ensure social distancing between work stations, and created new workspace cleaning policies. On Monday, March 23, HM opened and operated at full capacity. Employees worked confidently. Customers called to express their gratitude.
Better Together On March 27, 2020, when President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law, Nicole applied and received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for HM to operate continuously and retain its talented team.
She also sought an expert consultant to help her create policies and procedures to ensure employees’ health. For example, employees’ temperatures are checked before working. They wear face masks and gloves, follow new, stricter cleaning rules, and have more flexibility if they need to stay home.
The consultant also assisted with communicating clearly the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.
New Orders from New Customers Within two weeks new customers, including NASA, began to contact her about producing very small gears for medical and laboratory devices.
Founded in 1979 by her father, Ken Wolter, HM has a long history of making power transmission components including gears, timing belt pulleys, and related parts for the automotive industry.
She imagines the requests for these new tiny gears might be used in centrifuges to help find vaccines for the COVID-19 virus.
Defining Moment “Our team is doing a fantastic job focusing on quality and responding to customer orders in a timely manner,” says Nicole. “With business at full capacity, we are even looking to hire new machinists.”
“We feel honored to be considered an essential business right now and helping people get through this,” says Wolter. “I think how manufacturers respond to this crisis is what will define them when we are through it.”
No Stranger to Set-backs In 2009, during the Great Recession, Nicole faced adversity head-on as a young manufacturer and saved her family’s business. While learning all facets of her father’s company, she discovered a shell business within HM that employees were secretly operating.
The dire circumstance would have closed most machining companies. Her determination, grit, and creative thinking has transformed HM into a thriving $4-million company that she now leads as its CEO & President.
“You have to keep pushing through. It’s OK to fail. I have failed plenty. That’s how you improve. I’ve learned to embrace the things I don’t know and never ever give up,” says Nicole. “HM Manufacturing is my family. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep HM Manufacturing strong.”