In March, as the catastrophe that is the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold in the United States, Business Facilities posted its Coronavirus Mission Statement. Here’s part of what we said:
“Our platform is your platform and we are your voice. Tell us what you are doing to confront this crisis and help us showcase the best practices so that everyone can adopt them. Use us to communicate with each other. We’ll shine our spotlight on the locations who’ve found innovative ways to maintain the viability of their communities while we all hunker down.”
The response was overwhelming, filling the pages of our special cover story in the May/June issue of BF, entitled COVID-19: Response and Recovery, with inspiring reports or heroic efforts by EDOs across the country to provide financial lifelines to small businesses, and to create new supply chains for desperately needed medical equipment, including personal protection gear used by frontline healthcare workers.
BF will keep our online form for COVID-19 response submissions open for the duration of this crisis and we’ll keep giving you updates in each of our issues until this hideous disease is wiped out. Here’s the first.
ALABAMA: MOVING FORWARD
The coronavirus crisis interrupted a period of unprecedented growth for Alabama’s economy, which in early 2020 set a new record for employment and established a new all-time low jobless rate.
While the road to full recovery amid a pandemic will be strewn with obstacles, there are signs that Alabama’s economy is beginning to move forward. Many manufacturers quickly adopted new safety measures to protect their workforces and found it possible to resume production.
Alabama’s auto industry, in particular, is showing resilience. With production resuming, Alabama’s automakers are poised for hiring to begin again. In fact, the state’s auto sector is projected to add around 6,500 jobs as announced projects move toward completion.
Much of this hiring is centered around the 2021 opening of the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing joint venture assembly plant now under construction in Huntsville. The automakers are in the process of hiring up to 4,000 workers for the facility. Suppliers to the plant are moving forward with plans to hire nearly 2,000 additional workers in Alabama.
Meanwhile, Hyundai is investing $410 million in an expansion at its Montgomery assembly plant, while Toyota is investing $288 million to increase production at its Huntsville engine plant, which has grown to become the automaker’s largest engine production center in North America.
Mercedes is building a battery assembly facility to launch production of electric vehicles in Alabama, advancing the capabilities of the state’s auto industry.
There is a lot of activity going on in Alabama’s aerospace industry as well. Space flight company Blue Origin is rehabbing a test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville for its Alabama-made BE-4 rocket engines. In the 1960s, the engines that powered the Saturn V moon rocket roared to life on this test stand.
Other aerospace companies are growing their operations in the state. Lockheed Martin has designated North Alabama as its flagship location for the development of hypersonic programs, a critical national security priority. Dynetics, based in Huntsville, is also heavily involved in hypersonic programs.
Other aerospace and aviation companies, including Boeing, Airbus and Aerojet Rocketdyne, have significant presences in Alabama and continue to grow in the state despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Alabama’s bioscience sector—a hidden gem for the state—has been deeply engaged in fighting COVID-19. This multifaceted industry sector generates more than $7 billion in annual economic activity and supports nearly 800 companies and organizations that employ around 18,000 people in the state.
New opportunities are emerging for Alabama’s bioscience organizations.
In Auburn, SiO2 Materials Science, which has developed a unique vial system, recently won a $143 million federal government contract to supply vials for storing COVID-19 vaccines. SiO2 is adding 220 workers, more than doubling its workforce, and investing $163 million to scale up production in Alabama.
Also in Auburn, startup OraSecure LLC is launching pilot production of a breakthrough saliva collection device for safer COVID-19 testing. OraSecure is being supported by the Alabama Innovation Fund, a program administered by the Alabama Department of Commerce, and the City of Auburn.
Alabama’s broad-based presence in the life sciences sector also includes research institutions that focus on drug discovery and development, valuable capabilities in the urgent push for vaccines and therapeutic treatments against COVID-19.
Birmingham-based Southern Research, which has considerable experience in infectious disease research, has long been a leader in the evaluation of vaccine candidates and possible therapeutics for emerging biological threats.
Since the pandemic began earlier this year, Southern Research has screened compound samples for major pharmaceutical companies, over two dozen biotech firms and key government agencies. These compounds could be the starting points for new therapies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
In addition to these activities, Southern Research established an internal research program to identify known drugs that will be effective against this new threat. This approach—referred to as “drug repurposing”—consists of developing a rapid screen to determine whether there are already FDA-approved drugs that would be effective against COVID-19.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has been involved in this battle on many fronts. UAB reported that it has raised more than $1.1 million for clinical and basic research focused on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
UAB is also participating in a global clinical trial of potential COVID-19 treatments, including remdesivir, which has received emergency FDA approval as a therapeutic agent against the virus.
Alabama manufacturers are also making significant contributions in this effort. While many of them temporarily pivoted their traditional production to turn out desperately needed personal protective equipment, some Alabama firms have made a long-term shift to PPE production.
One example is HomTex, a family owned company that makes bed linens, pillows and other items at its facilities in Cullman County. Shortly after the crisis began, HomTex started producing cotton face masks for companies and individuals. The company went on to make a $5 million investment that will position HomTex as a permanent domestic producer of 3-ply, disposable surgical masks for hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities. The company will be able to economically produce at least 350 million surgical masks annually once the expansion is complete this summer. HomTex’s growth project will create 120 jobs in its hometown.
FROM SPACE SUITS TO PPE IN DE
ILC Dover, one of Delaware’s most iconic manufactures, has once again used its formidable material science expertise to fill a desperate need in the nation. Over 50 years ago, the company pioneered space suits to protect American astronauts from the vacuum of space. Now, in 2020, the company is pumping out products to protect frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A world-leading flexible protective solutions designer and manufacturer, ILC Dover has been one of the most innovative companies in Delaware since its start in 1947. Primarily focused on the pharmaceutical, personal protection, aerospace, bulk packaging and flood protection industries, ILC Dover suddenly experienced an explosion in demand for its line of Sentinel products in the healthcare industry during the onset of the pandemic.
The company has already been producing the Sentinel XL PAPR (powered air purifying respirators) for healthcare facilities nationwide. The revolutionary design redefined how healthcare employees mitigate the risk of exposure to hazardous pathogens in recent years.
But earlier this year, orders shot up 1,200 percent from last year, said company president and CEO, Fran DiNuzzo. The surge immediately shocked their existing supply chain, which in turn, unlocked their innovative spirit.
“The amount of raw material we needed was vast and there was one critical part of our systems—called an HP hood—that we couldn’t get a sufficient supply of,” said DiNuzzo. “We wouldn’t be able to deliver our systems without the hood so our engineers had to design, build, gain regulatory approval for and start production on a new hood in a very short amount of time. That’s where the EZ BioHood came from.”
Making use of materials and fabrication equipment ILC Dover already had on hand, the firm fast-tracked an alternative. Racing against the clock, they pulled it off. ILC Dover was able to obtain regulatory approval in a timeframe that would have been unheard of months earlier.
“NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) within the CDC was able to give us approval in just seven days—ordinarily this process can take anywhere from three to six months because of their workload,” said DiNuzzo. “With the help of the state, we contacted NIOSH directly to make them aware of the situation and from start to finish, we were able to get the new hood from design to production in five short weeks.”
The new Sentinel EZ BioHood is a loose-fitting hood designed to work with ILC Dover’s Sentinel XL blower system. It features an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) of 1,000—compared to an N-95 mask which offers an APF of 10, the Sentinel EZ BioHood provides 100 times the protection. Superior to the N-95 in almost every way, the Sentinel EZ BioHood is supplied with clean filtered air, can be worn comfortably for long periods of time and provides exceptional visibility, enabling healthcare workers to provide effective and continued care to patients.
DOING THEIR PART FOR PUBLIC SAFETY
The City of Cape Coral, FL has launched a “Mask Up Cape Coral” public awareness campaign encouraging residents and visitors to use face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Masks have been proven to be effective at mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Please do your part by wearing a mask. Spread the word, not the virus,” said Fire Chief Ryan Lamb.
The “Mask Up Cape Coral” campaign will include billboard messages near the Cape Coral Parkway and Midpoint Memorial Bridges, banners over Del Prado Boulevard at Veterans Parkway, kiosk messages along SE 47th Terrace, social media posts and other digital and print messages. The City will be providing campaign graphics and flyers that can be downloaded from the City’s COVID-19 website capecoral.net/COVID-19. The City also has partnered with the South Cape Community Redevelopment Agency, Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, Cape Coral Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, and South Cape Hospitality & Entertainment Associations (SCHEA) to distribute flyers to businesses who encourage or require face coverings.
In Kentucky, Paul W. Thompson, CEO of Louisville Gas and Electric Company and Kentucky Utilities Company detailed the utilities’ COVID-19 response, in a letter to customers.
“Safety remains our top priority. That’s why we modified our processes to support the health and safety of our customers and employees,” Thompson said. “We limited in-person services in customer homes and businesses to only critical activities. We’re continuing to provide flexible customer solutions to ease burdens on families and businesses. Where feasible, we adjusted the timing of infrastructure improvement projects to minimize the impact on the public.”
Thompson said that, through the LG&E and KU Foundation and shareholder funding, the utilities have been able to raise more than $250,000 for COVID-19 relief efforts in Kentucky.
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