Local company Ecolab in right place at right time to help with its products in pandemic

Ecolab employee Angie Bartrom prepares a production filling line at the Huntington plant. The company reports it has had between a five and seven-times increase in demand for its products since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Ecolab employee Angie Bartrom prepares a production filling line at the Huntington plant. The company reports it has had between a five and seven-times increase in demand for its products since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Photo provided.

A world leader in water, hygiene and infection prevention products that has a location based in Huntington has experienced heightened business during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Ecolab has had between a five and seven-times increase in demand for its products, making it a challenge to keep up with the call for the soaps, hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants it produces. On the other hand, Ecolab has increased shifts and days of operation for its employees, as well as hired additional people to work the additional time needed for production, playing a critical role in battling the spread of COVID-19.

Ecolab employs about 50,000 employees worldwide, with more than 100 at its Huntington location, which primarily makes products for the North American market. Huntington Plant Manager Kevin Wiig says the pandemic has kept Ecolab very, very busy.

“A lot of the products and services we provide are in very high demand right now,” Wiig explains. “We’re trying our best to produce as much as we can, because now there’s just this heightened sense of why it’s important to wash your hands to prevent the spread.”

Wiig says many of the Huntington location’s employees have given up much of their time, working weekends and picking up added shifts. The company has also hired temporary employees to help meet the demand for disinfectant and cleaning products that are used in hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, food producers and more.

“It’s a hard-working team here. They’ve given up and worked some extra shifts and extra hours. It’s a lot of members of the community here who work here,” Wiig says. “I appreciate the chance just to recognize the team that is working hard to try to help combat this thing.”

As an essential business, keeping employees safe is a priority, and Ecolab has launched several additional protocols since the pandemic began. Those measures have included social distancing inside the plant and restricting non-essential visitors from entering the building. Any non-essential activities have also been canceled and employees with symptoms of illness have been asked to self-quarantine at home.

“If we’re able to help the community and these hospitals, long-term care facilities and restaurants and all of those good things, we’ve got to take care of ourselves first, so we can help take care of others,” says Wiig. “There are a lot of times we do ‘team huddle’ meetings, maybe at the start of the day, and you talk through things. I’ll still walk the floor and talk with the team, so we have communication and accessibility, and we use bulletin boards that, as employees take a break, they can read so they’re getting information. But we’ve canceled a lot of our physical meetings and gatherings.”

The precautions also confirm the company’s own infection control procedures, such as washing down tables and production areas of the plant. Wiig says as a result, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the Huntington workforce.

The coronavirus outbreak has also changed the way Ecolab does business with its clients, often conducting sales and customer support over the phone.

“We’ve just had to brace,” says Wiig. “If you think about past challenges like SARS, H1N1, some of those incidents where you see an increase in demand, they’ve been shorter-advanced. This one, we’ve been preparing a little bit more for the long haul. Our life’s changed in manufacturing in that we’re very busy here in the plant, and we’ve adjusted to a little bit larger workforce, an increase in capacity.”

Ecolab’s team in China has been working with its customers and adjusting operations since January, says Roman Blahoski, Ecolab’s director of global communications.

“As the outbreak spread throughout the world and risen to the pandemic level, our various region and market operations have followed suit,” says Blahoski. “We’ve had to make adjustments to our operations and how we serve our customers, utilizing more of our technology to assess systems remotely, more remote work versus on site, and I think as we move through this pandemic you’ll see some changes.”

Blahoski says some of those changes will also be in how Ecolab’s clients do business from now on, such as social distancing within a restaurant. He notes there may be changes in the types of products Ecolab suggests to its customers for solutions in keeping a safe environment in which to do business.

Ecolab is currently working on overdrive to meet the significant demand for its infection-fighting products, while seeing an increase in sales of other products in its catalog as well. Moving forward, Blahoski says demands will likely fall back to pre-pandemic levels.

“I think it’s also fair to say that once we get past this pandemic, there will be many changes or modifications to how businesses operate, what consumers want to see within a customer site, so there will be an incredibly heightened awareness to proper cleaning and hygiene protocols within businesses,” he adds, “and we’ll help those customers and those businesses implement the needed protocols to ensure that their guests are not only safe, but their guests feel confident in the cleanliness of that facility.”