The coronavirus pandemic has tested people, businesses and communities across Northern Ontario, the country and around the globe. Eager to help, some local businesses have risen to the challenge, demonstrating their ingenuity and flexibility to join the fight against COVID-19.
Take Maker North in Sault Ste. Marie, for example, which quickly pivoted to make face shields for healthcare and essential workers. With some financial assistance received through the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre’s Business Technology Improvement Fund, supported by FedNor, Joseph Bertrand invested in injection moulding equipment. Partnering with Rynz Innovative Tooling of Seguin, Ontario, it started producing face shields.
“We ordered four to five new 3-D printers to assist with the demand,” said Joseph Bertrand, Founder and Director of Maker North. “We were printing 24 hours a day, seven days a week for two solid months. Hundreds went to the Sault Area Hospital, the Fire Department, First Responders and frontline workers such as Sault Transit Operators.” Bertrand, who was motivated to save lives because his wife had spent her career working at the Sault Area Hospital, distributed his face shields locally and across Northeastern Ontario with some going as far as the Yukon. He says that so far, all recipients of his shields have remained COVID-19-free.
MetricAid is a technology company based in North Bay whose physician scheduling software matches capacity with demand while anticipating the ebb and flow of patients. The result is reduced patient wait times, improved patient outcomes and increased physician satisfaction. Giving doctors remote access to the web-based platform enables them to specify how many shifts they want to work and where. This technology, funded in part by FedNor, has been instrumental in staffing the emergency departments in North Bay and Sudbury, as well as two of the largest mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics in southern Ontario.
“There are doctors who might want to pick up a couple of shifts so we build a schedule upon that,” explains Lora Webb, Chief Administrative Officer, MetricAid. “Our system can also incorporate volunteers who would assist, telling everyone exactly where and when they are to show up, and can be adjusted daily based on the number of patients and available vaccine. It simplifies an incredibly complex task involving countless moving parts.”
At a time when healthcare workers are dealing with exhaustion, Webb says the software ensures that they have the human resources they need when they go on shift.
Meanwhile Sleeping Giant Brewing Company is one of several Northern Ontario businesses that has jumped in to meet the need for hand sanitizer.
“The City of Thunder Bay asked if we could help,” revealed Drea Mulligan, CEO and Co-founder of Sleeping Giant Brewing Company. “We put our whole company on the line to source the ingredients. Because we were not a distillery, we did not produce alcohol. It was a huge capital investment and very risky dealing with new suppliers. We couldn’t afford to interrupt our own production so our employees agreed to work six days a week so we could produce hand sanitizer on Saturdays.”
Mulligan, who has benefited from the Women Entrepreneurship Fund through FedNor, says the outpouring of gratitude from the community was overwhelming. Ornge Air Ambulance took all of the first batch.
“Our employees were very proud to deliver it to the airport tarmac and see it being loaded for delivery across the North. I can’t begin to describe how much the community’s thank you meant to us.”
The closure of the brewery’s taproom and the shuttering of its event portfolio and licensees across the province resulted in a revenue loss of $1.5 million. Persevering, the company implemented numerous public health safety measures and switched from selling hundreds of thousands of kegs to canned beer, implementing same day delivery and curbside pickup. Everyone’s hard work paid off and Sleeping Giant came out ahead. Initially 24 of its 35 employees were laid off. All but four have returned.
The family-run and oriented business also adapted to help meet some of its employees’ needs, many of whom had young families. That’s why Mulligan and her husband Kyle, co-founder and head brewer, opened a daycare centre, believing that if they were in a position to help, they should. Nearly a year later, the small centre has found a permanent home across the street from the brewery and a larger licenced facility that will accommodate 39 children from the community once it opens in July 2021. The childcare and early childhood education workers are employed by the craft brewery.
In a time of need, these Northern Ontario businesses and many others just like them have proven that serving their community and beyond is just as important to them as serving their clients and customers.
These companies are truly Northern Ontario heroes and FedNor is proud to have been able to help!