EVERETT — Don Gerould hopes to hang on to his company’s Everett factory.
The owner of Berry Sign,, which designs and makes lighted signs in Everett and Tacoma, was forced to lay off 20 workers at the company’s Everett facility at 7400 Hardeson Road.
“Nobody is buying new signs,” Gerould said.
Keeping the wolf at bay might depend on the firm’s ability to reboot the product line and on some help from a new program, he said.
To make the pivot, Gerould plans to tap the expertise offered by Project Reinvent, launched this week by the Northwest Innovation Resource Center.
The free program aims to help startups and small businesses weather the economic downturn.
The resource center, a regional business incubator, will work with Workforce Snohomish to help companies reinvent themselves and their product lines, plus give a boost to displaced workers, said Diane Kamionka, who leads the resource center.
Together, the groups will match local businesses with volunteers, drawing from the ranks of the unemployed.
Gerould has been trying to think of “something” to keep from shutting down his Everett sign plant.
That something is shaping up to be a new product — an ultraviolet disinfectant system that can sanitize delivery vans, office spaces and restaurants.
Certain types of ultraviolet light can kill or disable bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Building illuminated signs — “we know how to evenly light up a surface” — is a transferable skill essential for the design of an ultraviolet system, Gerould said.
To work effectively, the system must uniformly spread light throughout a building or vehicle. That’s where sign-making expertise come in.
Many local firms are facing a similar quandary — how to switch gears and keep chugging along, even as the pandemic continues.
Resource center board member Andy Buchan, who is president of Deep Blue Strategic Advisors, a Mukilteo consulting firm, helped craft the initiative.
“The market has been so great for so many people for so long,” Buchan said. Because of that, “small businesses didn’t have to think strategically about their core business,” he said.
Then COVID-19 came along and hammered big sections of the economy.
Some companies were able to pivot and produce hand sanitizer or masks, Buchan said.
And while that could have been a good short-term solution, it might be time to map out a longer-term strategy, Buchan said.
Aerospace manufacturers, for example, are possibly facing a down market for several years, he said.
If you’re one of those firms, you might be considering retooling your stamping machines to make products for the auto or farming industries, Buchan said.
Project Reinvent is also looking for volunteers to share their marketing, engineering or other business expertise.
If you’re unemployed or job-hunting, consider donating your time, Buchan said. Recent college graduates are welcome, too, he added.
“It’s better than a gap in your resume,” Buchan said, “and it might turn into a paid position.”
Project Reinvent has the support of area leaders, including Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin.
The city of Everett and other local cities are helping fund the program with federal CARES Act funds, Franklin said.
“This kind of support will be critical to our business and our recovery,” Franklin said. “This can help small businesses tap into new technology and help displaced workers serving as mentors.”
Kamionka, who leads the Northwest Innovation Resource Center, hopes to recruit both small businesses and volunteers. She’s already started a wish list.
“I just got a call from a professor at Washington State University who’s created a new product,” said Kamionka. “This person has no business experience and would like to get help. I’m hoping that someone might take advantage of this. Oh, and I’ve got a small business, a manufacturer of fruit-picking equipment, that could really use some engineering help.”
For more information about Project Reinvent, go to nwirc.com.
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods