If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 crisis, it must be that America can no longer abrogate the production of personal protective equipment to China or any other foreign manufacturer. The only way to assure our first responders’ and healthcare frontline workers’ safety is to have a plentiful supply of PPE stored and ready to be deployed on a moment’s notice.
This story is personal to me. Only seven months ago we transitioned a portion of our manufacturing from non-woven fabric for the automotive and bedding industries to a line of PPE fabric. Today, we produce 4 million yards of PPE material each month. We currently we have no intention of switching back.
I started in this business straight out of college; my father was in the apparel industry and my grandfather before him. I remember the days of garment racks being pushed down the streets of New York City and bustling cutting rooms. That is what our country was built on — hard work and labor. We were a country that made things.
Over the course of my career, I have watched different production industries, especially the garment business, slowly make their way overseas, never to return.
As the coronavirus began to batter our region in March, our front-line workers were missing the critical tools they needed most, the equipment to keep them safe while they risked their lives to save ours. The world was experiencing a pandemic and PPE manufacturers all over the globe had to manage their own factory slowdowns — and sometimes shutdowns — in order to keep their employees safe. Competing buyers were desperately trying to replenish their inventories as they were experiencing shipping and transit delays caused by the global health crisis.
While the story of PPE shortages was plastered across the world, many of us in the United States had the same thought, “How could the greatest country in the world not be able to help our heroes?”
What followed was inspiring to say the least, lines of cars and trucks in front of hospitals with people donating whatever they had, an N95 mask from a construction project, boxes of gloves from tattoo parlors, even a Tyvek suit from a paint job. People looked into their kitchens, toolboxes, and shuttered businesses, pulling whatever they could to help our heroes. Companies that were able, attempted to rapidly pivot toward production of the needed items to keep our front-line workers safe. It was, and remains, a shining moment for our generation. Working together, we were able to put millions of pieces of PPE into the hands of those who needed it most.
The current health crisis is not over. It is likely that PPE will remain in high demand for our nation’s first responders, hospitals, and healthcare workers for some time to come.
What our nation learned in our most dire circumstance in March was that our domestic manufacturers can rise to the challenge. It is our responsibility to continue to do so. When the virus hit our area, many U.S. manufacturers pivoted to produce what was needed to combat the pandemic. Car manufacturers worked to create ventilators and respirators, the home furnishings industry stepped up to create hospital beds and masks, and, those of us who could, focused on working toward minimizing the shortage of PPE which could be made in our factories.
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We saw a new level of American ingenuity as car parts were used to save lives and materials used for shoes were used to create masks. In one case, workers in two different states moved into their factories for close to a month in order to ensure that some of the most needed supplies could continue being produced.
We saw, as the outbreak continued, that domestic manufacturers were able to work together to source raw materials in order to build up stock of PPE materials so that our communities could get the supplies they needed. While these actions made us “essential businesses” during the initial months of the pandemic, they also opened our eyes to the responsibility we now have before us: to remain essential to our community until we reach the other side of this pandemic and beyond.
Pivoting our operations not only allowed us to help our communities, but also inspired our employees and our customers as they watched a product that we helped manufacture make a difference within their community.
As manufacturers in this dire time, we need to come together to invest in our communities, our nation, and our future to ensure that our supply chain is secure for the next potential global shortage.
Investing in our ability to provide these essential products to our front-line workers not only benefits our businesses, but also our nation. It helps our business community when we source products locally, and it helps our wider communities as we hire additional team members to help produce the product.
We can and we will make these products here in America.
Scott Tesser is chief executive officer and co-owner of Precision Textiles based in Totowa. This column originally appeared in NorthJersey.com.
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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: PPE manufacturing must continue in America after COVID pandemic