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For the glove of it: Alabama factory picked right time to expand

07/22/2020
For the glove of it: Alabama factory picked right time to expand

As hospitals globally cope with escalating needs from the coronavirus pandemic,

there is only one factory in the U.S. that produces a specific kind of single use glove -

and it is located in Alabama.

And shortly before anyone in the world had heard of COVID-19, that factory

announced an expansion.

It’s a busy time at SHOWA Group’s Fayette plant, and has been for the past four months,

as the factory tries to meet a growing need at the same time that the plant itself

is growing. “You look around and you see so many businesses that have been hurt

by COVID-19,” Mike Kimple, manufacturing manager, said.  “We feel very fortunate to

help fight this pandemic any way we can.”.

SHOWA Group, with its U.S. operations based in Menlo, Ga., employs 230 in Fayette,

where they manufacture two kinds of gloves made of nitrile, a hypoallergenic synthetic

rubber that is an alternative to latex. In one year, the factory can produce

400 million individual gloves. If that sounds like a lot, consider that an estimated

100 billion gloves are thrown away each year - when there’s not a global pandemic.

The company has been a presence in Fayette for more than 30 years.

By the time its expansion is completed, it expects to employ 400. “We’re hiring every day,” Kimple said.

The two glove styles - a lighter green glove and a heavier black one - are used in several

different fields, but are in heavy demand these days in healthcare.

SHOWA Group announced an expansion of its Fayette plant last year - before the pandemic made PPE

gloves a hot item. In fact, Charles Miller, the company’s vice president of sales, said the demand for

gloves has skyrocketed since March.“It was fairly normal up through February,” he said. “Then we started

seeing other countries being faced with (personal protective equipment) shortages. That started hitting

the U.S. in March. Now, just the sheer volume that companies are looking for, government agencies - it’s

unprecedented.”

 

The gloves are biodegradable, something that company officials point out is

crucial when one considers the amount of single use gloves, masks, gowns and

disinfecting wipes that are already bound for landfills around the country. The

company will begin construction of two new production lines in October, and

expect to be turning out more gloves by next April. Kimple said that should double

the factory’s capacity, and will leave room for more production lines if needed.

Obviously, the company didn’t know what was just around the corner when it

announced the expansion. “We wanted to increase the capacity in Fayette, and

we wanted to upgrade our equipment to a more modern manufacturing base,” Kimple said.

Production continued through the early days of the pandemic, as the factory was

deemed an essential business. Kimple said masks, social distancing, barriers between

work stations and staggered breaks resulted in no cases of coronavirus there.

 

Today, the company announced a partnership with the Central Association

for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI) manufacturing division, which

encompasses distribution, packaging and fulfillment of glove orders.

CABVI President Ed Welsh said almost half of its employees are legally blind or

visually impaired - a historically underserved workforce segment hit particularly

hard by the economic fallout from COVID-19. “They see a need to further their

commitment to U.S. manufacturing, and that’s very important,” Miller said.

By: William Thornton | wthornton@al.com  

Also see this article on AL.COM

 

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