OWENWS-04-02-20 WPT NONWOVENS

From left, Hunter Smith, Willie Hunt, and David Carroll move equipment Wednesday in the WPT Nonwovens Beaver Dam plant. The company will be moving in new equipment in the next few weeks that will allow them to begin creating medical grade face masks and shields. They plan for the new equipment to be fully operational by the first of May.

Travis Robbins and his family have been monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic since its beginning, and watched as health professionals and others in emergency management put out pleas for personal protective equipment in the midst of the crisis.

Robbins is plant manager for Beaver Dam-based WPT Nonwovens, which is a company owned and operated by his family. The company creates medical, hygiene and air filtration systems, among other products. For example, Robbins said, if you have purchased an air filter for your home recently at an area home improvement store, it likely was made in one of their Beaver Dam plants.

After several individuals within the local community reached out to Robbins and his family asking for help, WPT Nonwovens decided to take action.

“My family and I decided that it would be the best thing for us to secure equipment and deliver to our supply lines and start producing N95 and surgical masks in America, in Kentucky, in mass quantities, to try to fill the need and bridge the gap in supply and demand that’s happening right now,” he said.

Over the course of a few weeks, the company purchased $500,000 worth of new machinery that would create the masks. By the first week of May they will be shipping out 100,000 surgical masks per day, and by the first of June, they will be producing 35,000 per day of the N95 respirator masks in a 5,000-square feet facility they have secured at their Beaver Dam plant.

At this point, Robbins said the company has been “absolutely flooded” with requests from area agencies and hospitals in need of the equipment.

“We said first and foremost we are going to support the state of Kentucky,” he said. “So the hospitals, nursing homes, and at our state level, the Department of Emergency Management will be the first people to receive these masks. Above and beyond that, we have been in contact with several (group purchasing organizations) and several large hospital chains, and we will be supporting solely the United States with these products.”

Jodi Ashby, Ohio County Economic Development Alliance executive director, said all of this began with a few conversations among herself, her colleagues, and Robbins and his family. She said an interesting, and perhaps heartwarming, aspect of all of this is that WPT began receiving requests for the equipment from community members.

“It was definitely a call to community service that WPT answered, and I think we are very, very fortunate in Ohio County to have a company willing to do that,” Ashby said.

Ashby did a lot of work behind the scenes contacting local and state officials to let them know what WPT Nonwovens was planning to do, and helping to secure supply chains for the raw materials.

“(Robbins) has received a lot of feedback from folks who want to purchase, so that’s a good thing,” she said. “I think that WPT will continue in this market because it looks like it’s going to be a needed market for quite a long time. This is no small investment on their part. They took a big risk, and stuck their neck out there for the community on this.”

This new venture will create 30 new jobs at WPT Nonwovens. To learn more information visit WPTnonwovens.com.

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

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