West Virginia Small Businesses Pivot To Hand Sanitizer And Face Masks
COVID-19’s long-term effect on small businesses in West Virginia remains to be seen. In the midst of that uncertainty, TechConnectWV’s TechWrx West Virginia program has been helping West Virginia small manufactures shift, or at least diversify, their production lines to create hand sanitizer or face masks.
As consumers’ demand for hand sanitizer far exceeded supply, distilleries across the nation began using their infrastructure to produce their own form of sanitizer. Jeff Arthur, owner and distiller at Mountain State Distillery, located in downtown Charleston, shifted production from boutique style blended spirits to hand sanitizer soon after the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality. The Chemical Alliance Zone, one of TechConnectWV’s sub-awardee in TechWrx West Virginia, helped Jeff source materials needed to manufacture sanitizer that would meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards, like glycerol and hydrogen peroxide.
“Back in March, when the pandemic shut things down, I got word of distillers producing hand sanitizer,” Jeff said. “Not being my primary business, I didn’t have all the necessary supplies to be WHO-compliant. I reached out to Kevin (DiGregorio) at Chemical Alliance Zone for help. He was able to connect me with organizations that could provide exactly what I needed. Without the help of Chemical Alliance Zone, I would never have been able to produce the sanitizer.”
The Center for Applied Research and Technology (CART) is another TechWrx West Virginia sub-awardee that supported a local business in responding to the COVID crisis.
Crea Company, a Mercer County company, has been using its space in Bluefield’s Commercialization Station to produce PPE that meets the government and local hospital’s guidelines. CART is instrumental in helping local companies make the most of Commercialization Station’s maker space.
Travis Lowe, a local pastor, developed Crea Company with Robbie Gaines, another local pastor. In an April 12, 2020, article in The Washington Post on Crea Company’s PPE project, Travis spoke about how the project to use 3-D printing to produce masks grew from just a few to larger volume.
“I would print out a couple of masks and give them to people I knew,” he said. “We never imagined this, and then we were positioned pretty well.”