SW Michigan companies retool to make virus protection gear

Coronavirus

PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — The COVID-19 pandemic has companies in southwest Michigan — and across the state — launching new product lines to help fight the virus.

In Bangor, Barber Packaging is manufacturing face shields being used by front-line workers.

Company President Luke Barber says the business worked with Pure Michigan Business Connect and Market Van Buren to find a product that was needed in the virus response.

“We’ve delivered over 400,000 face shields to date. We have open orders for over 800,000 and we think we will make over a million in the near term,” Barber listed.

Inside Barber Packaging in Bangor, where workers are making face shields. (May 4, 2020)

The company plans to keep the product as part of its permanent offerings, anticipating continued need from a number of businesses ranging from dental practices to food processing sites. It launched a website to sell directly to customers.

“One of the reasons face shields was such a good fit for us is because in our traditional core business of industrial packaging, we convert plastics and foam materials and do complex assemblies every day, so we were able to use an existing supply base and a lot of existing equipment,” Barber said.

Zach Morris, the executive director of Market Van Buren said the economic development organization has been working with businesses to help them through the pandemic by securing loans and retooling to manufacture new products.

“You have a lot of businesses who said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to shut down, sit on the sidelines, we want to be in the game, producing a product that’s necessary and needed right now,’” Morris said.

He said many businesses in the area are well equipped and able to quickly adjust their product lines.

“A lot of these businesses are tier one, two, a lot of them even tier three suppliers, meaning that they have a lot of different customers they work with and so they have a lot of variety and diversity of capabilities,” Morris said.

St. Julian Winery and Distillery in Paw Paw is now manufacturing hand sanitizer, which has become a popular item. President John Braganini said the business can make between 1,200 and 1,600 gallons a day.

“We started to see distilleries, many of the small distilleries who have no distribution network out in the market place, started moving to hand sanitizer. We saw that and we knew that we could play a role in it,” Braganini said.

The business is also supplying smaller distillers with ethanol so they can also manufacture hand sanitizer. 

“It feels great to be part of the community. It feels great to help our colleagues,” Braganini said.

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