Stepping up to help combat COVID-19
Apr 8, 2020

By the end of March, the 3M Valley, Nebraska, plant needed workers.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, unprecedented demand for N95 respirators – one of the personal protective equipment products manufactured at the Valley plant – had already pushed the plant to maximum production. With increased capacity and additional shifts running, the plant was looking for help.

Knowing it would take a couple weeks to staff up locally, management put out a call to 3M for volunteers.

Wade Kretman, technical director for the Automotive Aftermarkets Division, was one of several 3Mers who helped find volunteers. The requirements? Drive to Valley during a worsening pandemic, live in a hotel in a new city for two or more weeks, and work in a manufacturing role with which most volunteers would have little experience.

He put out the call for the needed 25 volunteers on a Monday night.

“By [Tuesday] morning, I had 100 volunteers,” he said.

The initial request actually netted more than 200 3Mers across Minnesota and Iowa, some with a little plant experience, some with none.

“When I heard the number of volunteers, it made me overwhelmingly proud to be a 3Mer and it is a testament to our company’s culture being boundary-less,” said Matt Huset, 3M Valley plant manager. “I am amazed at how upbeat and focused our plant is during these times, and how serious everyone takes their responsibility.”

Organizers down selected to folks with more experience to find a total of 50 willing 3Mers. Most volunteers were on the road Tuesday and Wednesday, advised to take their own cars to maintain social distance, as 3M Valley plant leaders organized lodging for them in a nearby hotel.

Volunteer Bill Ward, lead operator for the slitter and laser department at the 3M Ames, Iowa, plant, said he's been impressed with how appreciative and welcoming the Valley team have been to everyone. He noticed that even though people are working overtime, they are very focused on their job and have a great attitude.

“I was a little nervous when I first walked in,” he said, but there’s a camaraderie he didn’t expect. The volunteers have been connecting in the hotel lobby – each sitting at a separate table to maintain social distancing – to share their experiences.

The volunteers made up of engineers and technicians from 3M Center and other 3M plants in Minnesota and Iowa were quickly onboarded and put to work, assisting with tasks and positions that allows the Valley plant to maximize daily throughput.

“I thank the employees that volunteered and the leaders in other plants and division labs for willingly offering up some of their most talented and skilled folks to partner with 3M Valley at this time of need,” he said. “I am so proud of how flexible and resilient the Valley workforce has been in welcoming, training and collaborating with the volunteer employees during an extremely busy period.”

For Kretman, who is still involved in helping to get employees to 3M locations that need them most, the volunteers are the heroes of the story.

“It’s really cool that we get to work with people willing to step up like that,” he said.

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