In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, a Puritan Medical Products production facility is seen in Pittsfield. Credit: Charles Eichacker / BDN

A century-old family business in rural Piscataquis County became a key player in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, making it “the most important manufacturer in the world” in 2020.

That’s the conclusion of Inc. magazine, which named Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products, a subsidiary of Hardwood Products Company LP, its company of the year.

The nation, and the world, faced a dire situation last spring as the COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, quickly spread across the global and to every state in the nation. There was no vaccine, shortages of personal protective equipment and inadequate supplies of critical reagents and nasopharyngeal swabs necessary for coronavirus tests.

Those swabs presented a clear problem, because only two companies in the world — Puritan and Italy-based Copan Diagnostics — actually made them. Together, the companies churned out only 2 million a month, just a fraction of the 150 million needed monthly in the U.S. alone, according to Inc. magazine.

“Clearly, this was not a drill,” Timothy Templet, co-owner of Puritan Medical Products, told the magazine.

Quickly, and with help from the federal government, Puritan ramped up production. The company received a $75.5 million federal contract to make the coveted swabs, and soon opened a second factory in Pittsfield, boosting its workforce by 400 and swab production to 90 million a month.

Puritan even received a visit from President Donald Trump in June during which he touted his administration’s support for the century-old company founded as a toothpick maker.

Now a third factory, also located in Pittsfield, is scheduled to open in March, according to Inc. That will grow its workforce by another 200 and churn out an additional 50 million swabs a month.

In less than a year, Puritan has increased its swab production 30-fold, according to Inc.

“Puritan Medical Products embodies the long and proud tradition of Maine businesses stepping up during tumultuous times to meet the needs of our state,” Gov. Janet Mills said following the accolade. “On behalf of the people of Maine, I thank Puritan for manufacturing critical testing supplies during the pandemic and congratulate them for this well-deserved honor.”

Watch more: