This week, Dave Eckmann of Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce interviews Will Hsu, the President of Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises, talking about how Will is navigating Hsu’s Ginseng under the Covid-19 pandemic.
Elevated Conversations Podcast – Will Hsu (Part One)
Elevated Conversations Podcast – Will Hsu (Part Two)
To our customers, vendors, employees and community:
These are unprecedented times for our company and our country. While a few of us were here for SARS in 2003, many have watched the responses in China, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong with concerned interest the past few months, while those of us in Wisconsin likely felt isolated from or immune to the effects COVID-19 was having on people around the world. Now that we have seen how unprepared we were in the US with events unfolding this past weekend, we are seeing the natural reflex of people and governments to react in response to new developments. Rest assured that all of us at Hsu’s have been and will continue to keep a close eye on things as the response and recommendations change or evolve daily. This is a fluid situation and we hope to get more things right than wrong, but we won’t be right 100% of the time and I ask for your forgiveness ahead of time.
What’s at stake for all of us, regardless of how long this takes for the pandemic to pass (and it will pass as do all things with time), is the future of the company and our industry. This is difficult for all of us on top of the trade war with China and tariffs over the past two years on our products; however, we will not let this break our spirit and will continue to meet or exceed your expectations. I stand steadfast with our staff in our commitment to see us through these dark times with hopes of a brighter tomorrow.
In light of that, our plan as a company moving forward is to:
Increase routine facility cleaning and review hygiene policies and practices with staff encouraging hand washing and other protective techniques.
Encourage the use of face masks by employees for all product related production, including picking and packaging, as well as office or administrative staff for personal interactions during working hours. Hsu’s will provide masks to employees and staff that meet FDA and state food safety standards.
Increase the use of technology to avoid in-person meetings and keep lines of communication open while also reducing staffing levels to allow more social distancing during working hours in the office. Employees who are able to perform their functions at home will be asked to do so.
Suspend all international business-related travel and significantly reduce domestic travel prohibiting any travel to areas where community transmission is ongoing.
Make changes to our paid sick time policy to give more flexibility to employees and ensure that all employees are paid during this time of reduced demand, business and contact.
In order to do this we have made scheduling changes to our work force schedules and will close our local company store in Wausau to purchases and close our farm to tours for the foreseeable future until conditions warrant reopening. We know that as a family business many of our employees are parents or caregivers for elderly parents or family members, with schools closed and limits on elderly activities, we wanted to ensure our employees are also there for their loved ones. For that reason effective immediately, our employees will only be working 2-3 days per week, with approximately half of the staff we normally operate with to allow for social distancing in both office and production settings. As a licensed food manufacturing facility, we already have current operating procedures for hygiene and cleanliness and continue to review and reiterate those with staff, encouraging anyone who is ill or has symptoms to stay home until they are better or they are cleared to return to work.
We do not wish for COVID-19 and our response to create financial hardship for our employees, so for that reason, we are guaranteeing 32-40 hours of paid time per week (our company definition of full-time employees) for all employees regardless of hours worked. Any shortages will be covered by the company or through a generous sick time bank of over 1100 hours donated by management and senior management from their personal time accrued. We hope that all of you have confidence in us and the products that we deliver to your door. Thank you for your trust and your business. I appreciate your years as our loyal customers and hope that all of us at Hsu’s are here for you for years to come.
“It’s basically best for the public and best right now, with the travel restrictions, trying to get people to sign up, especially from China. It makes it very difficult to have a successful event,” said Richard Barrett, executive director of the Wausau Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But there’s another factor at play.
The senior operations director at Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises, Mike Klemp-North, says they were already looking at alternative products to sustain their business amid trade tariffs when the Coronavirus came along, since most ginseng in Marathon County is exported to China. While all ginseng farmers are taking a hit, t’s the smaller ones he’s worried about.
“What about the farmers who said, I have two acres in my backyard and I want to do this and invest and put equity into it. What about them? They are the voices that aren’t going to be heard in this,” Klemp-North said.
Following Monday’s announcement, Klemp-North says Covid-19 is another barrier in a laundry list of trade issues over the past few years. But he’s more concerned about the smaller operations they work with.
“It’s hard to hear, and it’s hard to understand as outsiders, what they’re feeling,” he said.
It’s hard to get the product to Asia due to ports there being closed.
“Last time I checked, we have at least two shipments sitting here in port in the United States, waiting to go overseas because there’s lack of cargo containers and lack of ships. We are so reliant on countries that are epicenters of this virus,” he said.
Covid-19 means Asian tourists aren’t buying the product in Chinatowns across the U.S., where a lot of the product is sold to visitors.
“We’re not seeing that business because of the result of the tourist implications of Covid-19. Now all of a sudden, we have another curveball, so now how are we going to change and address this new obstacle?” he asked.
As for the ginseng festival, which draws between 8,000 and 10,000 people to Wausau, not having it will mean a loss of about $3 million to the local economy.
Despite that, Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke is confident the event will be back and better than it was before.
“Stay positive, stay optimistic. When it comes back, it’s going to be even stronger and better than ever,” Mielke said.