NORFOLK — Business leaders and Gov. Glenn Youngkin reiterated their focus on reshoring health product capabilities Wednesday at the ribbon-cutting for a new Norfolk business.
Michael Alkire has a passion to reshore manufacturing, he told the crowd of over 100 at the Princo facility. Alkire is the President and CEO of Premier LLC, and a graduate of Firestone High School in Akron — the founding city of the tire company of the same name. Roughly 30,000 families in the city, once known as the Rubber Capital of the World, relied on the industry that lost many jobs in the late 1970s.
The impacts of a lost industrial base can be found in how vulnerable the U.S. population became during the pandemic as the production of health-care products had been shipped overseas, according to Alkire.
“We were caught flat-footed and we actually unnecessarily exposed our caregivers to the virus when we didn’t have the kind of PPE that was necessary,” he said. “We were way to dependent and way too reliant (on) Southeast Asia manufacturing,” primarily China.
Princo will install three more of these machines this year to produce incontinence pads for over 4,400 health facilities across the country. Princo is a joint venture among Charlotte, North Carolina-based Premier Inc, a health care alliance of hospitals and providers; Caretrust LLC, a firm that helps bring health products to market; and Vario Labs LLC, a subsidiary of Premium PPE of Virginia Beach, a PPE manufacturer. The companies are investing nearly $24 million in the project.
Youngkin complimented the uncommon partnership that has yielded the new 80,000-square-foot factory, which went from inception to production in 77 days, according to Brent Dillie, the CEO of Princo.
“Today is an exciting example of watching collaboration, at the heart of that innovation, bring home manufacturing,” he said.
Youngkin said Hampton Roads is uniquely positioned as a Naval, shipping and higher-learning hub to build on manufacturing capabilities.
One machine had already been installed with three other lines planned for installation this year. The machine, sourced manufactured by Shanghai Zhilian Precision Machinery Co., combines four materials into incontinence pads. The facility will be able to produce over 300 million pads annually and will start providing these products to over 4,4000 health facilities across the country, according to Dillie.