Linetec, stand

One bright side to an emergency is the opportunity to bring out the best in an organization. Linetec earned a 2020 Manufacturer of the Year award from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce for its efforts to reinvent its culture in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve always been a value-based management company, and we’ve held to 11 core values,” said Linetec president Jon Close, who’s been with the architectural-metals finishing company for 18 years but just moved into the presidency about two months before COVID hit.

One of those values is to maintain an environment that’s safe and enjoyable. It was Linetec’s three-pronged approach to those ends that caught the attention of WMC.

Linetec implemented a secure remote network for office staff to be able to work remotely and did so within two weeks of Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order in March 2020. The company installed safety protocols and procedures, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), before Evers began issuing any mask mandates that May. Linetec also upgraded its HVAC system to include ultraviolet light as a means of mitigating viruses, germs, and other contagions, generally improving overall air quality.

“We had the ability to work off site, but we had to put some equipment and some measures in place,” Close said. “It just wasn’t a big part of our work structure before. You definitely have to handle information differently. Now, when people can start returning, people will have that opportunity to work remotely.”

We’ve been able to educate and communicate with people. Today, we understand the coronavirus so much better. There were a lot of unknowns in the beginning. It was scary.

— Jon Close, president,

Linetec, Wausau

Close had been Linetec’s commercial sales manager, director of sales and marketing, and vice-president of sales and marketing from 2005 until his step up to the presidency. He’s known as well as anyone the value of in-person, interpersonal relationships.

“We still value those face-to-face calls,” he said.

And associates will be able to engage more safely.

“We were early adopters of PPE,” Close said. “In lieu of having to manage how close these people are to each other and those people, we just mandated that everyone wear masks. We have had some cases, but we’re able to do contact tracing, and we’ve not had any spread within our building.”

Even to enter the building requires a forehead temperature scan and some quick questions at a small kiosk, and finally, a printed ticket showing you’ve passed the protocols. Close estimated that Linetec had fewer than 10 cases at any given time out of a work force of well over 500.

Breathing a little easier was the impetus behind Linetec’s third initiative, the ultraviolet treatment of Linetec’s air systems.

“Some of our engineering folks were discussing air plenums,” Close said, “and can you put in UV lights. It’s shown to destroy airborne viruses and germs in office areas. I’ve seen that about 90 percent of what passes through is destroyed.”

Applying masking/distancing protocols to a shop floor where heavy machinery dictates spacing is a something else.

“The complexities of the manufacturing floor required that masks be worn across the board,” Close said.

Linetec also staggered start times for employees where possible, alleviating some foot traffic.

“We’ve been able to educate and communicate with people,” Close said. “Today, we understand the coronavirus so much better. There were a lot of unknowns in the beginning. It was scary.”

There also were uncertainties aplenty in the commercial construction industry where Linetec lives, but while the industry had been hit hard over the past year with project cancellations and postponements, projects and orders are getting back under way. Apogee Enterprises, Linetec’s parent company, has seen its stock price more than double over the past year after hitting a trough in March 2020.

With different companies in different parts of the country facing different situations regarding COVID, the demand for supplies has created shortages in some sectors.

“It’s pretty bad in the area of lumber and plastics,” Close said. “Just go to a home improvement store and you can see it in the price of lumber there.”

Even when a company such as Linetec is ready to send its sales force far and wide, it still depends on outside factors.

“It’s not even a matter of us being willing to travel,” Close said. “It’s that a lot of companies aren’t ready to see people.”