One positive idea to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic is creation of a New Jersey-based clearinghouse for the emergency equipment and supplies that were so hard to come by in March. The idea, championed by NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka among others, is to put New Jersey manufacturing and logistics to work to create the gowns, masks, face shields and ventilators the state needs during the pandemic.
At this morning’s legislative Manufacturing Caucus hearing, a surprising obstacle to the initiative was brought up—the state’s own procurement rules.
To be sure, the idea of stockpiling emergency supplies is a good one. It would ensure New Jersey medical personnel have equipment they need and it gives the business of creating and shipping them to New Jersey companies, helping the local economy in the process.
NJBIA Vice President for Government Affairs Chris Emigholz said PPE is a critical need for businesses that are reopening now. But to prevent a repeat of the competition for PPE seen earlier in the crisis, New Jersey would have to simplify its procurement rules.
“State procurement is not easy in the State of New Jersey,” Emigholz said. “With the red tape that New Jersey makes us go through, it’s often easier for our manufacturers to sell supplies that are needed today to other states because they’re easier. Other states have an easier process.”
That was the experience of Mitch Cahn of Unionwear in Newark, a manufacturer of hats, backpacks, and binders.
“In early March, we were about to have our greatest year ever by a wide margin,” Cahn told caucus members. “And within about a week-and-half period, we lost all of our business very quickly.”
With 180 sewers now available, Cahn saw an opportunity to be of use during the pandemic, so he quickly converted to making face shields and hospital gowns to support front-line workers. He has won contracts with New York City and the Maryland Department of Health, among others. But nothing from New Jersey. He attributes this to the fact that New York and other jurisdictions had an effective mechanism to override the lack of federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
“There was no way we were going to get FDA approval for our products in seven to 14 days,” Cahn said. “To this day, we have not gotten any business from the State of New Jersey.”
The other manufacturers speaking at the hearing were:
· Peter Connolly – President of Shocktech
· Amy Eskilson – President/CEO of Inrad Optics
· Gary Fails – President of City Theatrical
· Gail Friedberg – President of Zago
· Patrick Marotta – President of Marotta Controls
· Howard McIlwaine –Senior Vice President, Unex
· Brian Neuwirth – Chairman, Unex
· Casey Muench – President of GEMCO
· Dax Strohmeyer – President of Triangle MFG
· Carroll Thomas – Director, Manufacturing Extension Program National Network
· Dieter Weissenrieder – President/CEO of Weiss-Aug