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The federal government is providing $75.5 million to the Guilford medical products company that is expanding production of the testing swabs that are critically needed to detect the coronavirus.
Puritan Medical Products plans to add around 140 new workers to boost production of the swabs at a second location in Pittsfield, the BDN reported Wednesday. Puritan is one of two manufacturers in the world of the nasopharyngeal flocked swabs used to test for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
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It is partnering with two other large Maine companies, Bath Iron Works and Cianbro, to boost production of the swabs with funds allocated through the federal Defense Production Act. The U.S. Department of Defense said the funding will help Puritan double its swab production at the new facility, where production will start in May.
Bath Iron Works will produce machinery to help with the effort, according to Christopher Knight, a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. It will supply 30 of the 40 machines needed to expand Puritan’s production, he said.
BIW spokesperson David Hench said the company is still negotiating a contract for “a short-term job” to produce that equipment for Puritan.
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“We are proud to join the federal government to help ensure that every American has access to quality testing supplies,” said Timothy Templet, Puritan’s co-owner and executive vice president of global sales, during an event Thursday afternoon announcing the expansion. “We have an extremely knowledgeable and dedicated team at Puritan, and together with our construction and manufacturing partners here in Maine, and our dedicated employees, we are able to increase our production to meet our national public health needs.”
Cianbro owns the building at 129 North Main St. in Pittsfield that will house Puritan’s plant, and the contractor will spend the next month working to renovate it for the company’s needs, according to Peter Vigue, Cianbro’s chairman.
Following the news conference, Vigue said that the facility is expected to stay open past the current pandemic so that Puritan can contribute more testing swabs and other supplies to the nation’s stockpile to help prepare for future pandemics.
“Be assured of one thing: 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we will be rebuilding this facility and its ability to provide a manufacturing service that is very, very important to our country,” Vigue said.
He also referred to the fact that the Pittsfield plant used to employ about 300 workers who made smoke detectors and other equipment for United Technologies Corp. Fire and Security, but that operation was shuttered in 2014 when the company moved those jobs to locations in North Carolina, Mexico and China.
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“That left a huge void in this community and in this state, and today it’s changing,” Vigue said.
Like Vigue, Collins — who attended the news conference after touring Puritan’s Guilford plant earlier on Thursday — praised the fact that Maine workers and companies are contributing products that are desperately needed as the U.S. responds to the global pandemic.
“We’re not importing these swabs from China,” she said. “We’re not having this manufacturing occuring overseas. It’s occurring in the great state of Maine.”
The federal contract will boost Puritan’s monthly production of swabs by 20 million by the end of May, according to Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesperson.
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As of March, Puritan was only able to produce up to 1 million of the flocked swabs needed for coronavirus testing each week — or about 4 million per month — according to Templet.
The company says it makes more than 1,200 different types of swabs for a variety of industries — not just those needed for COVID-19 testing. Its swab production of all types normally totals more than 12 million per day, the company said earlier this month in a blog post.
The company employed about 300 people in March, and said earlier this month that it was hiring 30 temporary workers.
Maine’s congressional delegation and the nonprofit Eastern Maine Development Corp. have also been helping Puritan Medical Products to procure federal funding and recruit staff to boost its production of swabs, EMDC’s president and CEO, Lee Umphrey, said on Wednesday.
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