LIMA — When hospitals and long-term care facilities sounded the alarm about a personal-protective equipment shortage at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Ohio companies acted quickly to donate their unused face shields and masks and, in some cases, re-equipped their production lines to manufacture the equipment themselves.
Within days, Procter & Gamble’s Lima perfume-products plant was producing 55-gallon utility drums of hand sanitizer for hospitals and relief organizations.
World Class Plastics, an automotive supplier based in Russells Point, rolled out its own line of KN92 respirators, face shields and no-touch door openers.
Local distributors like PromoHits started stocking infrared thermometers and sanitizing wipes, which were similarly hard to find due to the sudden demand.
And KAM Manufacturing, which makes cut-and-sew products at its Van Wert facility, launched a line of isolation gowns, mask extenders and reusable masks in the fabrics of the company’s signature Stephanie Dawn handbags.
By September, the company had produced nearly 100,000 consumer and medical-grade masks and 90,000 isolation gowns, which at the time accounted for about 60% of KAM’s sales despite being a new production line.
It was an unexpected comeback story for KAM, which for decades watched as more and more companies moved textile production outside the U.S. Now, the company was making headlines for its ability to quickly turn around new products amid a massive, nationwide shortage of essential PPE.
But come September, owner Ollie Adams said, imported personal-protective equipment had flooded the market and lowered demand for domestic-made PPE once again, so production of the masks and gowns scaled back.
Adams hopes the personal-protective equipment shortage of 2020 encourages state and federal governments to enact protections so that at least a portion of personal-protective equipment used by the health care industry is made in the U.S. Otherwise, another shortage is bound to happen.
“We have the equipment and materials to make large runs of PPE,” Adams said, “and would be happy to do so if the current demand for domestic production changes.”
For many companies, the personal-protective equipment production was a temporary project to stay active and stave off supply shortages at a time when non-essential businesses were shutting down.
“They were trying to figure out a way in which they cold help in a time of need,” said Jed Metzger, president and CEO of the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce. “Most of the businesses that did participate did not make a substantial profit, because they were doing it for the right reasons during a crisis. People pull together to help solve problems, and that’s what the companies tried to do. It was rewarding to see that.”
But Metzger said the supply shortages of 2020 renewed interest in domestic manufacturing and led to projects like the Reshoring Initiative, which is encouraging companies to buy more parts and supplies from U.S. companies — an initiative that extends far beyond PPE.
“We were so dependent on foreign sources for the products we needed to function,” Metzger said, “that it slowed us down for a while.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at firstname.lastname@example.org.