Local manufacturer saw furloughs as an ethical decision, not a business one

Connected Technology Solutions headquarters in Menomonee Falls

Menomonee Falls-based Connected Technology Solutions certainly could have decided to continue operating under Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order.

CTS makes self-disinfecting kiosks used in health care environments. It is a product that hospitals could use as they seek to limit the spread of the coronavirus or at the very least would give the company to continue production.

“It’s a justification or a loophole that we could take advantage of but it’s not the right thing to do,” said Sandra Nix, president and chief executive officer of CTS.

Nix said the reality is customers with kiosks on order are too busy to install and deploy new technology. Instead, CTS is storing the units free of charge until after the stay-at-home order has been lifted.

“That’s in the best interest of our customers,” Nix said. “We’re not going to force them to take product that they’re just going to put in a closet simply because it’s expedient for us.”

Waiting to ship product may have been a straightforward decision, but the more complicated choice was what to do with the company’s 50 employees.

“I really struggled with the decision from a  business standpoint and then realized … it really wasn’t a business decision, it was an ethical decision,” Nix said. “Once I got that clarity on it, it was much more obvious what we needed to do.”

Nix said she made the conscious decision to put the health of employees and the community ahead of business considerations. She put all but four employees on temporary furlough, allowing them to collect unemployment benefits while maintaining their employment and benefits.

Nix broke the news of her plan to employees the week before Evers issued his “safer at home” order.

“My expectation was that a lot of our team members would be unhappy about it, of course, but in reality I found that for most part they were relieved,” Nix said.

She added that employees were concerned about taking the virus home to their families. The more she studied company operations with her team, the harder it was to see a way to have employees interacting with each other safely.

“I wasn’t willing to take that risk with the health of the members of our team,” Nix said.

What businesses are considered essential under Evers’ order has been a matter of debate and the order provides more than two dozen exceptions to allow companies to continue to operate.

“It’s been a great frustration to me that so many businesses have decided they want to put the economics of their company before the good of the community and the health of their employees,” Nix said, noting she regularly receives emails from companies touting that they are open for business. “The fact that an owner’s wife’s nephew once walked by a hospital they consider makes them a necessary business.”

Nix said business leaders have an opportunity to show leadership during the outbreak by prioritizing employee and community health.

“It doesn’t matter if the business survives if our employees suffer and there is no one to come back to the business,” she said.

Choosing temporary furloughs over layoffs also gave the company a better chance to keep its team in place. Many manufacturers have struggled for years to attract and retain talent in what was an ever-tightening labor market.

“We worked very hard to assemble the team that we have and it’s like an extended family,” Nix said. “The company has an obligation to them and I think they they genuinely feel a sense of loyalty to the company in return.”

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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