Business and Ethics / People of SU

Changing Business in the Wake of COVID-19

May 13, 2020


Seattle U double alumni Steve Brooks, ’98, ’19, vice president of business development at UMC, is driving an innovative solution to help at-risk communities stay healthy while keeping employees in the workforce by designing and manufacturing portable handwashing stations

Communities across the United States are coming together to tackle the devastating repercussions of COVID-19. Although social distancing and stay-at-home orders are working to flatten the curve and slow the rate of infection, many are still experiencing unprecedented financial hardships as a result of the pandemic.

Steve Brooks, ’98, ’19, vice president of business development at UMC, is driving an innovative solution to help at-risk communities stay healthy while keeping employees in the workforce. “The change in the world comes from business,” says Brooks, "and it’s on the business leaders in our community to really come up and create the social justice solutions that the community needs.”

UMC is a mechanical contracting company that plans, builds and manages buildings, facilities and construction projects. When COVID-19 devastated typical operations at UMC, causing furloughs and revenue loss, Brooks and the leadership team decided to modify their business offerings.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), frequent handwashing is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and others from contracting COVID-19. Acting on this information, Brooks and his team decided that instead of creating building infrastructure, UMC would design and manufacture portable handwashing stations. This pivot has allowed UMC to sustain more than 30 full-time jobs while continuing to serve an emergent community need.

The prototype was originally designed for use at UMC construction sites to promote a safer, healthier workplace and includes elements such as a six-foot space between basins to follow social distancing requirements. The idea has since gained traction and interest in UMC’s mobile sinks has spread. 

“Medical facilities called us. Boeing called us. Then there were some friends we knew who ran homeless shelters,” Brooks says. “They told us that this population didn’t really have access to an opportunity to wash their hands and to keep clean because those experiencing homelessness often use public facilities that are now closed. We’ve built a handful of units that are small and more compact that we’re delivering to homeless shelters to provide additional opportunities for them.”

So far, UMC has sold more than 200 of the stations to businesses, nonprofits and public entities across the nation.

In Washington, current clients include Seattle-area general contractors Skanska and Turner, the City of Seattle, Washington Department of Corrections, Seattle Public Utilities, New Hope Shelter in Puyallup and Top of the Hill Quality Produce in Renton. UMC is also working on a prototype wash station intended to be used in Seattle parks and public facilities.

Brooks graduated from Seattle University with a degree in mechanical engineering and a certificate in executive leadership. He has been inspired by SU’s Jesuit mission, particularly its focus on social justice and care for the whole person. “[The mobile sink] helps us in construction, but situations like this are hitting the marginalized much harder than the rest of us. What we can do as a company and as a team is to help alleviate some of the barriers that these communities might have.”

His advice for other Seattle University alumni is simple but inspiring: “We all have to contribute some of our resources to those who are really in need.”

Learn more about UMC.