SC manufacturers adapting and answering the call in the fight against COVID-19

A little more than a month ago, LaPorte’s Products in Dorchester County was busy manufacturing boat covers and shades for the marine industry. When COVID-19 began spreading across the country and personal protective equipment (PPE) became hard to access, owner Darren LaPorte knew his homegrown company could answer the call to help. 

“We quickly realized the water resistant, spandex-like material we use for our boat shades would be a favorable fabric for non-medical face masks,” said LaPorte. “Within days, we created our design, trained our team and started producing.”

Face masks manufactured by LaPorte's Products

The company is now making 500 to 700 face masks a day and selling them online to the public and to larger organizations. Plans are currently in the works to produce even more. 

“The fortunate thing is we’re able to do this. We had the tools and resources on hand to be able to assemble these essentials,” said LaPorte. “At the end of the day, we’re helping the cause, keeping our doors open and helping other organizations do the same by providing these masks.” 

LaPorte’s Products is one of hundreds of South Carolina companies retooling manufacturing operations to serve today’s medical needs. 

In Williamsburg County, Hemingway Apparel has transitioned its knit and garment operations into PPE production. The company joined a consortium of manufacturers across the country to produce non-medical face masks for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Employees assemble masks at Hemingway Apparel

“We knew we had to do something, so we started calling around to see how we can help,” said Chris Marsh, president of Hemingway Apparel. “We tore down our t-shirt department and pulled in a whole new set of machines. Our team is super excited to be helping the rest of the nation. You never know if your effort will save someone’s life, and that’s a magnificent feeling for all of us.” 

Hemingway Apparel is currently producing around 3,000 masks a day and is laying out plans for potential long term production. 

“The textile industry is used to having to adapt,” added Marsh. “We haven’t had this sort of call to step up to the plate in a long time, and we’ve done that.”

Automotive-related companies are also finding innovative ways to support the front-line medical workers in the fight against COVID-19. In Lancaster County, Fab Fours, a metal fabrication operation that specializes in custom, after market bumpers and truck accessories, leveraged its tools to design and create intubation boxes that can protect doctors while they intubate coronavirus patients. 

Fab Fours
The intubation box designed by Fab Fours

“I got a call from a friend, who is an emergency room doctor, asking if I could create an intubation box similar to a design he sent me,” said Greg Higgs, owner and CEO of Fab Fours. “Within 48 hours, we were able to use the supplies and resources on hand to create our model.” 

Higgs says his team has the capacity to produce more than 1,000 intubation boxes a week, and continues to explore partnerships with medical suppliers to get the devices to the front-line workers who need them. 

“It’s a real need right now," said Higgs. “This is a solution to a problem that wasn’t a problem 30 days ago, but a major concern today.” 

These companies manufacture vastly different products but, along with hundreds of others across the state, share a common new mission — to produce life-saving medical equipment and supplies to continue the fight against COVID-19.