BENTON HARBOR — A bevy of Southwest Michigan businesses came through for residents when the COVID-19 pandemic found its way to the region in mid-March.

As a result, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton honored those organizations Friday after they reworked their business to focus on producing products like hand sanitizer, masks, face shields, gowns, and other medical equipment.

“You always look for a silver lining. As businesses saw a drop in production of their usual product, this was something they could do to provide a real need,” Upton said. “We can all be safer for this. At the end of the day that’s what we want to do. We’re looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. Turns out, progress is happening here in Southwest Michigan.”

Upton, R-St. Joseph, presented certificates of Special Congressional Recognition to several local businesses as representatives stood spaced apart from another at Dwight P. Mitchell City Center Park.

On Friday, Upton was wearing a mask – with an American flag design – that he said he had bought from a woman in Niles who had begun making face coverings. He referred to what businesses have done in the past four months as “heroic efforts.”

“It reminds me of what occurred during World War II, with the private sector stepping up,” he said. “Today, this is meant to be a pat on the back in terms of what you all are doing.”

Among the dozen of businesses honored Friday included Eagle Technologies, Lake Michigan College, JR Automation, Competitive Edge, Journeyman Distillery and Whirlpool Corp.

Iron Shoe Distillery in Niles produced its own hand sanitizer after it ceased distillery operations. A representative from the distillery said they had some people drive from four hours away to pick up 5-gallon buckets and 8-ounce bottles.

Cornerstone Alliance President Rob Cleveland said the personal protective equipment businesses helped secure was pivotal to reopening this part of the state.

“Each and every one of your companies here today is responsible for getting Berrien County workers and residents back to work safely, and quicker,” Cleveland said. “You’ve either manufactured PPE, or you’ve been able to procure PPE for the companies and residents in our community. What I think is important is the diversity in the PPE that’s here with us today.”

Arthur Havlicek, president and CEO of the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber, commended the businesses acting without being asked to do so.

“You hear the term corporate citizens a lot these days and it showed in Southwest Michigan that we have a lot of corporate citizens,” Havlicek said. “They’ve stepped up to keep employees, consumers and front-liners safe with the equipment they need. They deserve the recognition for doing that.”

Contact:, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski