Less than 100 miles of interstate and back-roads in Georgia separates one of the largest car manufacturers from an OEM manufacturing supplier. Eight weeks ago, these two manufacturers had never been in contact, let alone imagined they would connect over a product that neither were producing at the time. Fast forward to May of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic and not only are they supporting each other, but one of the companies is incorporating this product change into their long-term business strategy.
In late February, Reagan Barksdale, president of TSG Resolute in Americus, Georgia, could see the writing on the wall. Watching what was occurring in Asia and Europe and talking to numerous Fortune 500 clients, Barksdale and his team had the forethought to understand that there was going to be a shortage in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the hospitals and began putting together a plan to manufacture and distribute face shields. Barksdale said, “The product itself was aligned with what we were already producing in our facility and by getting ahead of the curve not only have we been able to stay open and keep our team working, but we are manufacturing a key item that is helping out in the community and across the country.”
Around the same time, Stuart Countess, chief administrative officer with KIA Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG), out of West Point, was having a similar conversation with his team. Knowing the automobile industry was going to have to slow production to deplete existing inventory, KMMG wanted to give their team a chance to keep working and tie back to their “Accelerate the Good” program. Countess said, “We could use our manufacturing resources to support the needs of the medical industry in a timely manner and make an immediate impact.” The KMMG plant got to work, reconfiguring the materials space for their new production line – setting up glass partitions and work station tables six feet apart. Countess reached out to John Morehouse, Director of the Center of Innovation for Manufacturing at the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Derek Woodham, West Georgia region manager for the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech, to gain confirmation that KMMG’s idea of producing face shields was an immediate need in the state.
Morehouse connected KMMG with the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), a non-profit 501(c)(3) and affiliate of Georgia Tech, where the groups partnered to prototype and test KMMG’s face shield renderings. While this was occurring Countess was asking Woodham how to get the materials sourced to create the face shields. Woodham reached out to TSG Resolute, a long-time client of the GaMEP. Woodham said, “Reagan has been in our CEO Roundtable for years and has been a very active participant and supporter of the GaMEP, and just knowing that they were already making face shields, the connection seemed perfect.”
During the conversation, the two groups agreed that TSG Resolute would supply KMMG the materials needed to produce face shields. Countess said, “It was great to be able to connect and support a Georgia-based manufacturer.” Barksdale agreed, “We took a chance at the beginning of all of this and since we were one of the first to make this product, we had enough raw material that we were able to supply KMMG so that they could help out with the critical supply efforts as well.” In addition to supplying material, TSG Resolute also got involved in the face shield design, helping GCMI optimize material to keep the cost down.
Two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, KMMG is fulfilling commitments across the United States. The team is providing face shields to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), which are then being distributed to those on the front line. The group is also shipping out product to their regional offices across the country, who are then dispensing the face shields to medical facilities and hot spots in their regions. Countess said, “We have a goal to produce 300,000 face shields by the end of May in order to get our product into the hands of people that need them most.” As for a what’s to come, the KMMG team is continuing to assess the situation and align their future efforts with the needs of those in the field. Countess continued, “KIA and the KMMG family have a strong community relations program and it’s great to be able to give back during such an important time for all of us.”
For TSG Resolute, a 250 person plant in a small town in Southwest Georgia, the short-term goal is similar to KMMG – to supply the medical industry with what they need to stay safe. Barksdale said, “We are currently making up to 65,000 face shields a day and sending them to local hospitals, as well as supplying KIA with 50,000 parts, such as foam and latex straps, per week so they can continue to produce product as well.” For the long-term, however their goal is different than KMMG. Prior to COVID-19, TSG Resolute had sold a few of their products to the medical industry, but had a five-year plan to break into this new-to-them market. Barksdale said, “We had just made a million-dollar capital investment to serve the medical industry, so COVID-19 has sped up our plans and instead of it taking years to make connections in the industry, it’s taken weeks to form important relationships with hospital chains and medical suppliers.” In addition, the company has used this time to complete construction on their clean room, form connections, educate themselves on the industry, and look at economical ways to produce medical industry products in Georgia, but at costs closer to overseas competitors, so they can continue to forge this new path for the future of the company and the growth of jobs in their community.
Prior to COVID-19, Barksdale and Countess had never talked nor was KMMG aware of the manufacturer less than 100 miles away, but for both groups, through their trusted relationship with GaMEP, they have grown to rely on each other and are exploring ways to work together even long after COVID-19 is a distant memory.
By Katie Takacs, with the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership