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Mid-Plains Industries helps with COVID-19
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Mid-Plains Industries helps with COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased need in personal protective equipment and Mid-Plains Industries has been assisting in fulfilling this need.

Mid-Plains Industries (MPI) is a Columbus-based custom metal fabricator – but since COVID-19 took the world by storm, they’ve been making and selling plexiglass Protek-Shields.

Protek-Shields are mobile plexiglass shields in a reinforced stainless steel frame – they look kind of like portable windows. Residents may have seen them in action at the Hy-Vee gas station check-out line or the Columbus Public Library front desk.

Mid-Plains Industries Sales Manager Luke Heaton said MPI has been selling between 100 and 200 Protek-Shields on an average day.

“We’ve had so many local businesses buy our product and it’s just been phenomenal, the support of the local community to buy local,” Mid-Plains Industries President Brian Turner said.

But MPI’s business hasn’t just been local – it has received orders from all across the country.

“We’ve had automotive dealerships from New Jersey to implement dealerships out in California and everywhere in between. Right now we’re really seeing a push for the schools,” Heaton said.

The business from the Protek-Shields has prevented MPI from needing to do layoffs. That has been important, Turner said, because most of MPI’s workers have families to support.

Turner said MPI has sold Protek-Shields to many businesses in Columbus and the smaller surrounding towns. The local support has been incredible, he noted.

Many local schools have been ordering as well as they gear up for the school year. MPI has produced a frameless design to accommodate for a safe school environment.

Turner said the company began manufacturing the Protek-Shields to address two problems – public health and job security.

“We saw other companies making masks or building respirators, which we weren’t really able to do. And then we also began to see our business was being impacted due to some of our customers shutting down or slowing down,” Turner said.

Jeanne Schieffer, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, noted that MPI's initiative is one example of how Columbus area businesses are innovative when faced with a crisis, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"It shows how seriously businesses are in making sure that employees and customers are safe," Schieffer said. 

The question was how to participate using MPI’s resources of plastic and metal. In March, Heaton said, the company started designing the Protek-Shields.

“At the time about the only thing that was open was convenience stores. So we began to talk about that and next thing you know it looked like we could provide a protective shield for the convenience store industry,” Turner said.

Once MPI started production, it didn’t have to change much about its process, either.

“The biggest thing that we had to do was allocate room in our shop to lay everything out and set up a production line for them,” Heaton said.

Heaton added that MPI has also had a lot of luck selling Protek-Shields that accommodate a company’s logo or business name. Those, he said, have been a big seller.

“It’s been kind of a fun ride because not only are we generating a lot of business but we’re doing our part to keep people safe,” Heaton said.

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at molly.hunter@lee.net.

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