Nonprofit Pivots to PPE, Stays True to Mission
MDI workers on the assembly line. About half of the nonprofit’s employees have disabilities. MDI Inc.'s Facebook account

Nonprofit Pivots to PPE, Stays True to Mission

Like scores of other Minnesota manufacturers, plastic packaging maker MDI Inc. pivoted to PPE production. But with an immunocompromised workforce, the nonprofit faced a few unique challenges.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit in March, health providers and elected officials almost immediately scrambled to stock up on personal protective equipment (PPE). Faced with a nationwide shortage, a number of manufacturers made some adjustments to their assembly lines and began churning out PPE. Minneapolis-based MDI Inc. was among those manufacturers, but what makes the plastic packaging maker different than others is its distinction as a nonprofit social enterprise. Nearly half of MDI’s employees are people with disabilities.

TCB caught up with MDI president and CEO Peter McDermott to learn more about the company’s response to the pandemic, along with the challenges of managing an immunocompromised workforce.

Q: How has your company been disrupted/affected by coronavirus?

A: What do you do when your business is essential, but a significant portion of your employees have compromised immune systems? Our answer was transforming the manufacturing floor and our overall approach to work. Not only were new social distancing, sanitization and work-from-home policies implemented, but we also built a customized work plan for every employee to ensure they felt safe. We took advantage of our employee support program and strong communications already in place to activate this preparedness plan in a matter of days. For some employees, their plan meant new staggered hours. For others it meant not coming into work for a set period. No two employees have the same work plan, because we recognize that no two employees have the same health and comfort levels. To date, none of our employees have reported testing positive for Covid-19.

Q: Have you lost revenue because of the pandemic? Anything you’ve been able to do to compensate for lost work or create new streams of revenue?

A: MDI’s commercial revenue is down approximately 7 percent. We have secured face shield assembly business resulting from the increase in demand generated by the pandemic. We have also pursued kitting and packaging of personal protective equipment such as face masks and Covid-19 testing kits.

Q: Have there been any bright spots in this crisis—support from clients, innovations coming out of the need to improvise, etc.?

A: We have seen an increase in overall market demand and opportunities in the medical market. Additionally, our commercial services area has seen steady work as a result of companies outsourcing kitting and packaging services. Overall, the company has experienced positive momentum in recent weeks as far as increased revenues, new business opportunities, and overall customer activity. Recently, the U.S. Postal Service has dramatically increased its orders for totes, trays, and lids which will create significantly more work for MDI over the next several months.