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Father and son show us the importance of backing local business

When he was 17, Edan Stolberg, who is General Manager at BHP’s South Walker Creek mine, was finishing his last year of school. In his spare time, he rode his bike, watched TV and hung out with his mates. At the same age, his son Tom Stolberg has been to Silicon Valley twice, started his own business called ‘Make it Now’ and has already made his mark in Mackay and surrounding communities, where 80 per cent of the mine’s workforce live.

For past two months, Tom Stolberg has taken over his dad’s garage to produce PPE masks for nurses and doctors, which are still needed even though the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia appears to have subsided.

Using his 3D printers, local supplies and support from the local Resources Industry Network, Tom has developed more than 100 customised, reusable face masks to protect those on the frontline.

“Many nurses and doctors were in need of a supplementary supply of PPE while they waited for orders from larger manufactures, so I was approached to see if I could help,” Tom said.

“It was a no brainer. These people are on the frontline, trying to proactively manage COVID-19 and protect the community I live in. I know many of them and I know their sons and their daughters. It was really important to me that they remain healthy and safe.”

“It wasn’t just any face mask that Tom produced”  Edan, who is extremely proud of his son’s initiative and entrepreneurial spirit, said, encouraging Tom to explain the share novel idea he came up with.

“Given the high demand for PPE materials during COVID-19, I couldn’t source the materials you would normally use for face mask lens. So, I came up with the idea of using the thick sheets of plastic that are used as binder folder covers,” Tom said.

“With the support of the Resources Industry Network, I was able to source enough of these from local suppliers.

“The GPs and nurses love them because you can simply remove the sheet, clean and then reuse it.

“The mask design that I came up with can also be customised to allow a light or magnifying glass that many of the doctors use, under the protective lens.”

Since 2018, Tom’s small business has been a part-time gig for him. During business as usual, he produces everything from guards to scale models for local and global companies like BHP and Glencore. 

Edan said watching Tom develop his business and get opportunities to explore and establish his ideas has reinforced the importance of companies like BHP that support local businesses through local buy programs.

“There are so many small players out there that have brilliant ideas that can unlock value such as innovation or productivity gains, but just need someone to back them or invest in them to get their ideas off the ground,” Edan said.

“Without this, Tom wouldn’t be where he is now and he probably wouldn’t be in a position to produce the much-need PPE masks for doctors and nurses in our community.”

And it goes both ways. Many small, local business have helped keep South Walker Creek Mine running during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’ve just stepped up – they’ve done what they’ve need to do to keep their people and our people safe and healthy during COVID-19,” Edan said.

“This has made a huge difference to the Mackay community and surrounding communities where the majority of our employees and contractors live. It’s helped ensure people can continue to go to work and their families know that they are safe doing so.”