PATERSON, NJ – A growing number of companies in Paterson are repurposing their production lines to join the fight against COVID-19. With cases still growing daily across the country, critical equipment – from protective gear for healthcare workers to sneeze guards for supermarket check-out aisles – is in high demand.
Several local manufacturers have shifted gears and are now using their factories to produce everything from protective cloth masks to hand sanitizer.
New Jersey, like many states, remains under a stay at home order that has kept non-essential businesses shut, causing record levels of unemployment, particularly in the service industry.
While some companies have been able to implement remote working for employees, the pandemic has posed a challenge for industrial manufacturers, especially those that depend on workers whose jobs have to be done on site.
A recent survey of the National Association of Manufacturers found that 80 percent of manufacturers expect the outbreak will have a financial impact on their business.
Steve Holand, owner and president of MyCaseBuilder, a Paterson-based company that makes molded carrying cases and custom foam inserts for protection, security, storage and transportation, said sales are down about 50 percent, so they started manufacturing protective face shields a few weeks ago.
“I blew through our savings to keep all our employees paid during the first month of the shut down and we were about to furlough about half the company two weeks ago when our PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan was approved and funded,” Holand said. “We still have the 41 employees on payroll.”
The company – which split its employees into two groups that rotate between days each week to minimize contact, and has its office workers remote at home – continues to manufacture their regular products and is “using any excess capacity to make face shields,” Holand said.
“Since we do not have as much work, we have instituted an 8-week improvement plan in all areas of the company,” Holand said. “We want to use the time to look at processes, costs, marketing, etc., so we come out a better company on the other side.”
At Biogenesis, a skin care and cosmetics manufacturing company, workers are producing hand sanitizer, a product that is very hard to find nowadays on store shelves.
“While our focus has mainly been producing hand sanitizer for first responders, we have also been contracted to fill a large amount of hand sanitizer for many other new customers,” Ann Rabbani, president, said. “As demand is high, we’re starting to work on our customers’ orders on a very limited basis, but since the retail environment has shifted to online sales, our customers’ needs have also changed. We’re doing our best to accommodate them.”
Biogenesis, which was founded more than two decades ago in Hackensack and moved to Paterson last year, has 135 employees and has not conducted any lay-offs or furloughs, she said.
“We have a limited number of people working and hope to start bringing back all our employees slowly and when the time is right,” Rabbani said. “Every employee has been getting paid since the state shut down in March.”
Biogenesis has also donated thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer to first responders, including police, firefighters and public works employees in Paterson.
Local manufacturers are among a number of companies in the U.S. that have gotten creative not only to keep their employees safely working and stay in business, but also to produce goods that are desperately needed during the public health emergency.
Alia Suqi, founder and owner of Nextwave Web, said, “When the outbreak started, we quickly realized that the number one concern for everyone across the globe was to be safe and healthy. At the same time, we had to make sure that our employees were financially secured.”
The printing company now makes face shields, sneeze guards and acrylic partitions, in addition to its regular products. But, Suqi noted, “traditional and conventional printing orders have gone down significantly since the pandemic started.”
“We simply realized that there was a huge demand for protection gear and we had the capabilities to meet that demand,” she said.
Michael Powell, the city’s director of economic development, said, “It is extremely heartening that during this difficult time Paterson firms are innovating by reevaluating their production processes and rapidly adapting them to address existing shortages due to the global pandemic.”
“The impressive actions that Paterson firms are taking not only protects their already diminished bottom lines, but also helps to keep Paterson residents working and taking care of their loved ones,” said Powell, adding, “It’s inspiring.”
“America’s first-planned industrial city is once again proving its mettle, by finding opportunity in as unique moment of crisis,” Powell said.
The production changes, Mayor Andre Sayegh recently noted, are reminiscent of World War II, when U.S. automakers shifted from producing cars to planes and tanks to support the war effort.
Back during World War II, Paterson-based Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical Corporation produced aircraft engines for all of the B-17 Flying Fortresses used during the war, along with the B-25 bombers that participated in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in 1942 and the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945.
“Paterson did its part to win the war and Paterson is doing its part once again to win this war,” Sayegh said last month.
Here are a few Paterson-based businesses that have shifted gears during the pandemic.
Century Services Affiliates – My Case Builder
Industry: Makes cases and custom foam inserts for cases for police, military, firearms and medical workers.
What they are doing: The factory has begun producing face shields for healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers that are available for purchase in small and large quantities.
What they are doing: The company now produces signs, banners, floor decals for social distancing markers, posters, a-frames, sneeze guards and face shields to help promote health and safety.
Industry: Skin care and cosmetics manufacturing
What they are doing: The manufacturer began making hand sanitizer, an item in very short supply over the past several weeks.
Industry: Custom bags and accessories
What they are doing: Workers are now hand-making cloth face masks, head masks and gowns
The Tablecloth Company
Industry: Linens, tablecloths, napkins, placements, chair covers and drapes
What they are doing: The factory is producing cloth masks.
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