Dave Pflieger, Lemke Ind Mach

As the owner of Lemke Industrial Machine in Marathon City, Dave Pflieger isn’t one to spend a lot of time watching TV.

But in this era where so many are working remotely, the company’s president since October 2011 has found himself sitting in a now-empty conference room spending time with a massive monitor.

It’s all part of adjusting to business life and staying connected with one’s work force in an era of social distancing. Fortunately for Pflieger and his company, a Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce Manufacturing Excellence Award finalist in 2019, also was considered “essential” during Gov. Tony Evers “Safer at Home” order issued in mid-March. An event just a couple of months later underscored that essentiality.

It’s all part of adjusting to business life and staying connected with one’s work force in an era of social distancing. Fortunately for Pflieger and his company, a Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce Manufacturing Excellence Award finalist in 2019, also was considered “essential” during Gov. Tony Evers “Safer at Home” order issued in mid-March. An event just a couple of months later underscored that essentiality.

Lemke Industrial Machine specializes in large-scale industrial infrastructure, including gate hoists, moveable bridges, and locks and dams.

“There’s really been a heightened awareness about this infrastructure,” he said. “There are more than 91,000 dams in this country, and their average age is 57 years old.”

The Edenville Dam was built in 1924, consisting largely of earthen berms, which gave way after torrential rain. That sent floodwater downstream, breaching a subsequent dam and putting parts of Midland County, Mich., under 9 feet of water.

I’ve always said this industry is recession proof. Now, I guess it has to be COVID proof. If something breaks, it’s got to get fixed. The trend looks good for us.

—Dave Pflieger,

president,

Lemke Industrial

Machine,

Marathon City

Pflieger is well aware of what’s at stake when he and his team are engineering such major projects, and he realizes that in an era where the hiring climate is ultracompetitive, getting the right minds on board is essential; and that even in this era of distancing, communication is vital.

“We’re not seeing salespeople,” he said, “and our people have had to work remotely, but we already had two people who were based remotely, so we had some of the systems in place. The day we sent folks home, we were all set up by 2 p.m..”

While it wasn’t difficult to disperse the approximately dozen office personnel, it was more challenging for those on the shop floor, who are more limited by the immobility of their machines and work stations.

“Our second shift went to four 10s,” Pflieger said. “We put our day shift on that, too, and went dark on Fridays.”

Pflieger described efforts to ensure workers could maintain 6-foot distances where possible.

“Fortunately, things are spread out a little for us,” he said.

While approval processes have slowed with so many people scattered about, Pflieger said, the backlog of projects is strong enough that things should be rolling along for Lemke Industrial Machine for the foreseeable future

“I’ve always said this industry is recession proof,” he said. “Now, I guess it has to be COVID proof. If something breaks, it’s got to get fixed. The trend looks good for us.”

While Pflieger and company have been able to adapt on the fly and kept things rolling from a manufacturing standpoint, a challenge that could show itself down the road could come from canceled and postponed trade shows. The Center for Exhibition Research reported that there were 9,400 business-to-business trade shows in 2019, generating more than $100 billion in gross domestic product. Old friendships are renewed, new ones are made, and nobody seems to know yet how that’s going to look as planning for 2021 looms.

“We were absolutely destroyed by the shutdown and its aftermath,” said Dale Elliott, owner of Dale’s Weston Lanes and of the Central Wisconsin Convention & Expo Center. Elliott normally hosts a steady schedule of weddings and mid-size gatherings at the former and large-scale trade shows and events at the latter. “We had people reschedule for next year, and by August we did a few at the lanes and at the convention center where they could spread out more, but they still only had 30 percent to 50 percent of what they thought they were going to have (in attendance).”

Uncertainty about the coronavirus is difficult enough to navigate, not to mention civil unrest in cities that were set to host trade shows.

Portland, Ore., was scheduled to host the influential Hydrovision trade show in July. It was rescheduled due to COVID concerns, but Portland also has seen steady protests and some riots and looting since May.

“There could be a niche there for cities that can create safe spaces,” Pflieger said.