We’ve come a long way from the time of makeshift masks and watered-down hand sanitizer that plagued the spring of 2020.
And while vaccine rollouts have brought new hope for the end of the pandemic, manufacturers across the state of Georgia are continuing to fill in a critical personal protective equipment (PPE) supply gap. We spoke with manufacturers who either retrofitted factories or built completely new operations over the course of 2020 to hear how the pandemic sparked supply chain innovation in the state.
THE STATE OF GEORGIA’S MANUFACTURING SECTOR
Georgia actually played an outsized role in improving national PPE supply early in the pandemic. The Global Center for Medical Innovation, located in Midtown Atlanta, was integral for companies navigating regulations and changes in the medical supply space.
But it was individual manufacturing plants throughout the state that helped fill a critical supply gap early in the pandemic.
Manufacturing employs about 380,000 Georgians and accounts for 11% of the state’s gross state product. While aerospace, motor vehicle parts, and paper are some of the largest manufacturing subsectors, John Morehouse, Georgia Center of Innovation’s Director of Manufacturing at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said that early on the state noticed various manufacturers pivoting into the medical and PPE space.
“We were getting inundated by different companies throughout Georgia that were stepping up and saying ‘hey, we can make masks or we can make gowns or we can make hand sanitizer.’”
Ultimately, the state compiled a list of suppliers which had figured out how to pivot into making masks, ventilators, physical barriers, or hospital beds after Governor Kemp issued tax credits for PPE suppliers.
Morehouse’s office found that upwards of 360 manufacturing plants produced PPE over the course of 2020 to diversify product lines, save jobs, and retain revenue during COVID uncertainty. About 150 of those facilities had previously never worked in the medical supply space.
Manufacturing pivots ranged from art suppliers producing hand sanitizer to packaging companies making face shields.
Making The Manufacturing Pivot
Startup facilities and seasoned manufacturing plants alike across the state answered the call early to produce PPE materials.
Luosh was born after the husband and wife team looked for ways to personally procure PPE from international suppliers. “Around February [of 2020], we started to hear reports of people, especially medical providers, having to wear face masks that were made out of sewn blue jean material or wearing face masks that were a week old.”
After it was apparent that global supply chains were skewed and demand had skyrocketed, Briggs began manufacturing ASTM Level III three-ply face masks from Marietta, Georgia.
Luosh focuses on delivering American-made face masks constructed with traceable materials. It has grown to be a team of twelve employees. Briggs, who is also active in the American Made manufacturing movement, says that constructing face masks in Georgia allows for a “level of control and reliability that comes from local materials.”
Seasoned manufacturers, like Foodservice-Sustainability Solutions (FSS), pivoted from industrial kitchen supplies to air filter and sanitization options for schools and other high-trafficked buildings.
Kim Eger, Senior Vice President, told Hypepotamus that the development of FSS’s AirGenie™ Sanitizer was an opportunity to “keep people employed and do something worthwhile.”
The AirGenie deactivates live viruses with the use of UVC technology, something FSS already used in its kitchen technologies. ”While it wasn’t common knowledge when we started down this path, we were making a bet that airborne viruses were going to be a key part of [COVID] mitigation.” As the scientific community reached a consensus that COVID-19 was indeed airborne, Eger said that AirGenie helped fill an important gap in the market, since traditional HVAC systems and air purifiers can’t kill such viruses.
MEDICAL MANUFACTURING LONG-TERM FUTURE
While COVID case numbers have decreased dramatically in the state since its January 2021 peak, well over half of Georgia manufacturers plan to continue to supply PPE and other medical material for at least the next two years, according to preliminary survey results from the Georgia Center of Innovation.
The pandemic, Morehouse said, was a “flashpoint that showed how strong Georgia is in terms of medical manufacturing and life sciences.”
Many Georgia manufacturers see pivoting and innovating in the PPE space as a part of the building up the state’s economic resiliency and its critical supply chain moving forward.
“We don’t know what’s floating out there and when the next pandemic will be, but if you have federal funds and can [continue manufacturing PPE] now, it’s a good time to go ahead and kind of buy your insurance policy,” added Eger.
Briggs, who is also active in the US Association of Biodefense Manufacturers, said now is the time to ensure that local PPE manufacturers are able to continue to grow. That, he notes, requires improving state and federal contracts. “We can make sure we always make these things in the United States and have a solid supply chain from the ground up.”
Feature image: Melody and Jeremy Briggs standing in front of an N95 machine line in Marietta, Georgia