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When events and bookings dried up in 2020, the pandemic required a pivot for PacWest Sound

The whiteboard on the wall at Pacific West Sound tells the company's story in 2020.

"This board was our bible," said Steve Grider, PacWest's vice president of business development.

Earlier this year the Bakersfield-based company had $2.3 million in bookings, filling the board with event details and schedules. The year 2020 was shaping up to be what PacWest President Brent Milton called "a breakout year for us."

Then coronavirus became a household name.

"We started erasing things off the board," Grider remembered.

On Wednesday, the whiteboard at the company's headquarters on East 21st Street was empty, wiped clean. More than $2.3 million in planned work had been erased by the pandemic. Twenty employees, more than two-thirds of Pacific West's workforce, had to be let go.

"It was a hard thing to sit down, look at our people, and say who can we keep and why," Grider said.

PacWest's bread and butter has long included performance arts and theater venues, corporate clients, schools, churches, all the way up to huge stadiums and 80,000-person events.

They did a project at the Venetian in Las Vegas, and for 12 years they worked Monster Massive, an annual Halloween-themed electronic music festival held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

When the earthquake named COVID shook the world, many might have closed up shop. In fact, many have. But PacWest pivoted.

"It's in our best interest to get people back into buildings," Milton said.

"We thought, 'Hey, we can fill a gap,'" Grider added.

The gap they saw involved public safety, long a part of the culture of a company that laid miles of electric cables, stacked heavy speaker systems and always did so with the priority of keeping clients, employees and the public safe.

Milton and Grider co-developed what they call the QuixScan hardware and software integration system. They created a new division — CheckPoint — and began marketing two products to enhance health security anywhere and everywhere people share space.

Their newest product, the eScreener Interactive Kiosk is designed to greet patients entering medical offices, dental offices, customers at retail outlets, business offices, students and teachers at schools, worshippers at churches and visitors to other locations. The technology includes facial recognition capabilities and asks visitors to put on a mask if they're not wearing one. It performs a body temperature check and has an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser. All touch-free.

"The health benefit is amazing," said Kris DeLano, CheckPoint's media, Web and marketing specialist.

It only takes one sick child at a care or activity center, she said, or one retirement center employee with an elevated temperature to potentially bring a dangerous virus into contact with vulnerable individuals.

No one is claiming CheckPoint's systems are foolproof, but the company's principals believe that these systems can enhance safety without causing inconvenience and wasting time. At the same time, they protect the customer.

The company's smaller, less expensive system, the QuixScan AITD-720, has fewer features but provides the core capabilities Milton, Grider and DeLano believe will add an extra layer of protection to just about any facility.

The city of Bakersfield, the city of Shafter, a juvenile detention center in Taft and several other clients have purchased the units. 

"It's a small but growing part of our business," Milton said.

Indeed, COVID-19 has accelerated the company's efforts to enhance distance learning at Cal State Bakersfield, testing and working with manufacturers to improve the performance of cameras that track instructors as they move.

In a tour of part of PacWest's 14,000 square feet of warehouse and product-testing space, tons of equipment, trucks and technology remain dormant. Public address systems, speakers, cables, the brains of sound systems are, for now, resting quietly until live, dynamic people-with-people events come back.

PacWest is far from dead. Rather, the company and its CheckPoint division are proof that local entrepreneurs are still willing to take risks, are still able to engage with a changing environment. They remain determined to evolve by harnessing useful products backed up by their own customer service.

"It's not just the technology," DeLano said. "It's being able to install and offer support."

Milton said he's always had this in him.

"I always had an interest in audio and sound reproduction," he said.

Anyone with a love for live music, the theater and other dynamic public events — events that bring people together — must surely be hoping that companies like Pacific West Sound and audio professionals like Milton get crazy busy in 2021.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.