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Columbus State empowers Ohio’s manufacturers through COVID-19 and beyond

Campus News | Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Workers making masks at Costume Specialists

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership at Columbus State is working with custom mascot producer Costume Specialists to convert its business model to protective mask production.

As the State of Ohio mounts a collective response to slow the spread of coronavirus, Columbus State Community College is empowering manufacturers and their employees to repurpose and reskill to meet immediate demand for supplies. The College is also working to prepare displaced workers for new, in-demand jobs and other opportunities that emerge as Ohio’s economy recovers.

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at Columbus State is a full-service solutions provider partnering with Central Ohio manufacturers to grow their business. MEP has responded quickly to the current crisis by helping manufacturers shift to producing personal protective equipment (PPE). At the same time, MEP is also helping manufacturers think strategically about near- and long-term community, operational, and workforce needs.

Alliance to Fight COVID-19
MEP at Columbus State is a proud member of Gov. Mike DeWine’s newly formed Ohio Manufacturing Alliance to Fight COVID-19. Announced April 1, the alliance is a collaborative public-private partnership that will coordinate efforts to provide healthcare workers and first responders with personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, Ohio Hospital Association, Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership, nursing home organizations, JobsOhio, Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Ohio Development Services Agency, and the Ohio Department of Health are all part of the alliance.

MEP at Columbus State is helping identify manufacturers, source materials, analyze plans, develop and re-engineer processes and equipment, and retrain employees to produce needed Personal Protective Equipment, including plastic face shields and masks.

For example, MEP at Columbus State is working to assess Ohio manufacturers’ capabilities and processes for creating face shields. The Ohio MEP — the organization that manages the network of regional MEP affiliates — procured a large amount of the raw material needed on the behalf of the state. In order to produce the face shields, Columbus State is exploring the use of injection molding. Mark Gerko, Chair of Engineering and Transport Technologies at Columbus State, is exploring the possibility of using the College’s dormant machining lab to make a mold that manufacturers can start using immediately to produce the face shields.

Manufacturers are also stepping up to help produce and supply face masks. One of the MEP’s clients, Costume Specialists, has temporarily shifted its business model from custom mascot production to making non-surgical fabric masks to help supply companies with Center for Disease Control-recommended protective gear for their employees. MEP is helping the manufacturer source materials and strengthen its supply chain during this transition. Local public organizations, like COTA, have reached out to Columbus State to help identify needed items to keep them operational and safe – and Costume Specialists has secured the COTA contract to provide masks for public-facing employees as well as mechanics and maintenance professionals who need them for job-specific protections.

“MEP has been so supportive in helping us realize this temporary solution to keep our doors open and our workforce engaged as an essential business during this challenging time,” says Greg Manger, Costume Specialists president and CEO. “We look forward to continuing to work with MEP to improve and grow our business when we transition back to normal operations.”  

Creative Solutions for Changing Workforce Needs
The ripple effects of the COVID-19 crisis are already significantly and rapidly changing the way manufacturers do business. In a time that calls for creative problem-solving, the MEP at Columbus State is narrowing its focus to bridge the gap between now and the surge in demand that will follow this disruption.

Our manufacturer partners are expressing two major workforce needs right now:

  • Manufacturers are shifting their work to meet the requirements of social distancing, which means employees suddenly are covering additional responsibilities and may need to rapidly gain new skills.
  • Meaningful training and engagement for employees who, due to supply chain interruptions and reduced workloads, can use this time to expand their knowledge base.  

In response, MEP at Columbus State is partnering with digital training providers Tooling U-SME and Amatrol to offer new online training programs paired with one-on-one virtual coaching by our faculty and professional staff. We’re underwriting the majority of the cost for the program to make it more accessible to small and midsize manufacturing companies during this time when they need it most.

This online training will allow employees to upskill in preparation for a new industry landscape in the coming months while keeping them engaged and up-to-date in the meantime. The curriculum consists of 90 days’ worth of coursework, and participants set their own pace.

Columbus State’s Integrated Systems Technology training lab, which provides technical training in industrial maintenance, is also shifting to a virtual environment with an eye toward meeting future demand. The team is developing customized study plans to maintain technical training for each of its current students.

“At Columbus State, helping our community is a part of our DNA,” says Jeff Spain, director of MEP at Columbus State. “I’m proud to be a member of a team that stepped up to make a difference and ensure a strong future for Central Ohio.”  


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