It’s one of many U.S. companies with the same mission: to make America more self-reliant on essential medical equipment after the coronavirus pandemic sparked a global rush, especially for personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“I think there were some bad decisions made in American manufacturing, especially for critical assets like (medical gloves),” Ratigan said. “The decision has been made to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Preparing – in America – for the next pandemic
During CNN’s December visit to the USMGC factory, a new production line “dipped” its very first nitrile gloves – a test to make sure the machines are running and the complex chemistry of the nitrile is perfect. Each of the thousands of components in the lineup are made in the United States, Ratigan said.
The pandemic has revealed “how much the United States depends on foreign sources, which constitutes a vulnerability in public health emergencies,” the HHS spokesperson said.
In 2020, 90% of the gloves, syringes and needles used in the United States came from Asia only, according to the HHS. Now Washington plans to spend $ 1.7 billion to boost domestic production of PPE, part of the $ 4.5 billion to help expand manufacturing in the United States more widely, according to HHS. The United States is also investing in domestic production of raw materials for gloves, masks, gowns, drugs, vaccines, medical test kits, and other essential medical supplies.
The marketing director of SHOWA Americas tried to convince buyers to diversify their suppliers by purchasing at least gloves made in the United States, he said. It was a tough sale.
“We were trapped in the always frustrating game of being a domestic manufacturer, but our own country will not buy our products,” said Gilbert LeVerne.
Pre-pandemic plans to modernize and expand the plant were accelerated thanks to the surge in demand and a loan from the US government. In about three years, the company expects to produce more than six times its current US production, he said.
Having no manufacturing experience, they brought in overseas glove production experts, who will start production lines next month. Gloves, they expect them to be a bit more expensive than Asian brands.
“Hospitals and clinics and even end users are willing to pay this small premium… so that we are prepared for a future pandemic,” Momin told CNN.
Operating technology for a glove made in the USA
Malaysia produces the largest share of medical gloves in the world, followed by Thailand and China, according to the Malaysian Association of Rubber Glove Manufacturers. It is almost impossible for American producers to compete with Asian factories on price. But imports often have a different cost.
Ratigan insists he can compete on price while obeying US laws and running a workplace ethically.
“The reason I can do it is because the technology allows me to do it in a way that allows me to compete with even the dirtiest user of slave labor,” he said.
The key, Ratigan said, is a virtually fully automated process: A giant machine equipped with thousands of hand molds dips into a chemical mixture at a precise heat, then removes the resulting gloves at the right time.
“You could never have done this 30 years ago because the technology didn’t exist,” he said.
In pointing to his production line, Ratigan points to what he calls “a simple widget” – his shorthand for almost anything that could be made in the United States by a well-paid workforce.
“There are hundreds of these gadgets that should be made here and could be made here in a way that offers a minimum wage of $ 50,000 per year, full benefits… no forced labor, no abuse at all. by creating profitable businesses, ”he said.
The USMGC’s minimum wage is $ 25 an hour, plus health care coverage and benefits – and there are plans to provide free child care on site, Ratigan said.
“If you treat people as valuable, you always make money,” he said.
Demand-driven flexibility is key, expert says
The pandemic has proven that America’s over-reliance on Asia for medical supplies is “at very high risk,” said Prashant Yadav, health supply chain expert at the Center for Global Development in Washington.
The success of US glove producers depends on their ability to automate and their flexibility to scale up or down production based on demand, he told CNN.
It also depends on how long buyers remember the desperate race to secure PPE, Yadav said, “Or is it just a very short-term memory, and soon people will start to wonder again.” who is my cheapest supplier? “”
In the long run, the US government should help domestic PPE producers by negotiating trade deals that guarantee comparable wages at Asian factories – rather than subsidizing US companies, he said.
“Once the most suppliers that export to the United States raise their standards, both for quality and ethics, then everyone in the market is under pressure to raise their standards,” he said. he declared.
Momin and Ratigan agree.
“The US government must be courageous and step up and, at the very least, institute the tariffs necessary to punish those who use slaves who produce counterfeit items, including medical gloves, and allow American competitors, like us, to compete. at a playground level, ”Ratigan said.
Tim Lister, Florence Davey-Attlee, Darren Bull, Luke Wolagiewicz, Gary Levens, Dougla Burns, Nick Young and David Lynch contributed to this story.