JELCO, a manufacturer of fall-protection gear for utility workers, is expanding its workforce and adding equipment to produce personal protective equipment for health care workers at its plant in Cullman, Alabama.
The company produces fall protection equipment for at-heights workers such as harnesses, lanyards, pole straps and rescue equipment. Its chief customers are utilities and telecommunications companies.
Philip Clemmons, president and CEO of JELCO, said the move stems from his desire to make a positive contribution during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when hospitals and health care workers were scrambling to locate PPE.
Clemmons said he believes his company’s move into healthcare PPE has long-term potential in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are still a lot of companies that are importing their PPE from China and India, but what we have is something that is made right here in Alabama, here in America. I think a lot of people would rather have something made here than made in China,” he said.
“Back in March, we looked around and said, ‘What can we do to help with COVID-19?’ We knew how to sew, and I had capable people,” he said. “I could also buy more sewing machines and hire more people. I talked to a few of my friends who are doctors, and that’s how we got into PPE.”
JELCO initially began producing washable face masks based on local demand. It quickly shifted the new production endeavor to include hospital gowns, after discussions with Cullman Regional Medical Center, which placed an order for 3,000 gowns.
“We have been shipping hospital gowns across the country, to small clinics, doctors’ offices, nursing homes and everything in between.”
Clemmons said his company has invested more than $100,000 to install new sewing machines at the Cullman facility, where it also added an automated fabric-cutting machine to speed up production.
The plant, which opened in 2019, had only a handful of employees in March. Today, employment is approaching 25, and Clemmons said he believes new hiring can be sustained.
“Cullman is very lucky to be surrounded by companies that have stepped up to face this pandemic and produce the products that protect our citizens and the medical professionals that are on the front lines fighting this virus,” said Dale Greer, director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency.
“JELCO has risen to the occasion providing critical medical and civilian PPE in a time when PPE shortages are common. Alabama’s medical workers, their patients, and our citizens are safer because of JELCO’s efforts,” he added.
Besides the location in Cullman, JELCO also has a plant in Montréal, where it was founded in 1892 as the J.E. Lortie Co. Clemmons’ family acquired the company in 1998, and he has served as CEO since 2008.