What You Missed from The Big Pivot B-School

Hal Higdon, Brian Fogle, Brandy Harris, Michael Cho, Jackie Douglas, Tyler Drenon, Austin O’Reilly and Mike Miller all share how they stepped up to help southwest Missouri in the midst of COVID-19.

By Jenna deJong

Jun 11 2020 at 3:48 p.m.

Biz 417 Editor Jenna deJong
Photo by Jenna deJongBiz 417 Editor Jenna deJong snaps a selfie while watching B-School Breakfast Series.

Though this was Biz 417’s second B-School Breakfast Series held virtually, emotions ran high as our six panelists shared their experiences fighting and surviving COVID-19. The hour-long event on June 11 featured Michael Cho, co-owner of Craft Sushi; Jackie Douglas, education director of the Discovery Center of Springfield; Tyler Drenon, innovation strategist at Missouri State University’s Libraries’ Innovation Lab; Brian Fogle, president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Ozarks; Brandy Harris, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield; Hal Higdon, chancellor and president of Ozarks Technical Community College; Mike Miller, president of Polyfab Plastics; and Austin O’Reilly, founder and CEO of Dynamic DNA Laboratories

Hitting Highs in Lows in the Same Week 

Michael Cho’s best and worst days experiencing COVID-19 happened within the same week. As the co-owner of Craft Sushi, Cho and his team experienced three consecutive days where the restaurant’s revenue had dipped nearly 80%. Cho said he worried about the future of his business, staff, and family. The Wednesday during the first week of the city-wide shutdown, Cho took to social media to post a vulnerable call for help. The next day Cho said the restaurant had one of its best days in sales. The following Friday, Cho took off from his day job to visit the restaurant and interact with customers who he witnessed tipping 500% and sometimes 1,000% of their bill. 

Becoming a Manufacturer Overnight

When Tyler Drenon, innovation strategist at Missouri State University’s Libraries’ Innovation Lab, received word that CoxHealth and the Jordan Valley Innovation Center had opened up their face shield designs to the community, he reached out to the Springfield Police Department to find out how he could meet their needs. Through one of his connections, he learned local first responders were among the many who were experiencing the difficulty of a shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE). Drenon, along with other community groups and partners, wasted no time using their resources to begin producing PPE by way of 3D printing. Because the process quite literally involves melting multiple layers of plastic, Drenon said it could have been slow. Thanks to the simplicity of the product’s design, Drenon and his team produced hundreds of shields. 

Winning National Attention 

The Discovery Center of Springfield made national news for turning itself into a temporary childcare facility for the children of healthcare workers. Thanks to two different social media stories that have each racked up over two million views, the center has won national attention. Though Education Director Jackie Douglas said she and her team knew COVID-19 would impact the region, she wouldn’t have believed the success they found through filling a much-needed gap in the community. Douglas said that by the end of this month, the center is on track to provide over 100,000 hours of free childcare by the end of the month, and that to date, the center has had over 900 child enrollments. In the coming weeks, the center plans to slowly open back up to the public and begin offering paid summer camps using the same safety guidelines currently in place. 

Providing Much-Needed Relief 

Brian Fogle, president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Ozarks, said that though no one has ever experienced anything quite like COVID-19, he and his team were poised to react and adapt and provide much-needed relief and recovery to local nonprofits. He and his team reached out to a few connections and organizations who had grant experience to create an emergency relief fund. That fund that would come to support over 100 grants of a combined $2 million. Fogle commended the grant committee, who has spent countless hours and meetings every week to determine the awards. Though Fogle said only 10% to 15% of requests are made, the foundation is “here today, tomorrow and years from now,” and that it won’t stop providing relief when needed. 

When One Door Closes, A New One Opens

“No one is exempt from the power of COVID-19,” said Brandy Harris, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield. When the club was forced to shut its doors, Harris said the entire team knew the need hadn’t changed, and that everyone accepted new responsibilities to assist the club’s members and families. Harris said as quickly as possible, the club conducted a critical assessment and determined the largest pain point felt by club members and families was access to food. Now, a few months later, the club has served over 40,000 meals and 570 additional community members who are not club members. Though the feat is impressive, Harris said she admits that when a crisis hits, it’s hard for even her to keep negative feelings at bay. She suggested “making the world small” by focusing on your internal compass and hone in on the things you can impact and control. 

The Perfect Storm 

For Hal Higdon, chancellor and president of Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC), it wasn’t the pandemic that caused him to stress about the future of the college, but what came after: Earlier this month, “Governor Mike Parson announced over $209 million in additional expenditure restrictions due to COVID-19” of which “over $41 million comes from the Department of Higher Education,” according to a press release. Higdon said OTC was already suffering a 16% reduction in state funding, and that the school is the lowest funded community college in the state. Nevertheless, the college has been able to avoid furloughs, layoffs, and cutting staff salaries. Plus, Higdon said OTC had received $8 million in federal funding, and that a “massive boost in enrollment,” would help cover some of the loss. Now as the fall semester quickly approaches, Higdon and his team are navigating how to transition more programs online or to a safer, more distanced format. 

One Weekend Changed The Game

On a Saturday late in March, Mike Miller received a call from someone interested in working with Polyfab Plastics to produce face shields for a healthcare client. He looped in his engineering team and together, they had manufactured a prototype and had it shipped out to the client in a matter of days. Miller, who is president of the company, jumped on the opportunity to manufacture PPE for both the local community and beyond. With some of the company’s customers no longer needing orders filled due to COVID-19, the new opportunity helped Miller keep his people employed. 

Testing on the Front Lines

To fill the need in local testing, Austin O’Reilly, founder and CEO of Dynamic DNA Laboratories, reached out to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department to see how he and his team could help. With the necessary equipment at their disposal, O’Reilly ordered 12,000 testing kits and began filling a critical community need. The company had to act quickly, but through additional hiring and long working hours, the team was able to commit to communicating test results within 24-hours of testing a sample.