Jon Hart employs about 75-90 workers in assembly of the handmade bags.
Jon Hart Design is among the local manufacturing companies that form the Medical Manufacturing Alliance of South-Central Texas. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Texas health care workers and essential workers are still in need of more personal protective equipment, or PPE, to battle the coronavirus pandemic – and San Antonio manufacturers are working to help fill the gap. 

Last week the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) announced the creation of the Medical Manufacturing Alliance of South-Central Texas to help meet needs for locally manufactured medical supplies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“PPE is still a need in Texas,” said Lyndsey Rosales, communications specialist for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “[The State agency] continues to receive and send PPE throughout the state.”

According to data on GetUSPPE.org, at least 18 official requests for more PPE have come from Bexar County as of April 23 – making it one of only 12 counties in the state to have more than 10 requests since the start of the pandemic. 

The medical and manufacturing alliance hopes to narrow the gap between demand and supply for PPE by connecting manufacturers in San Antonio to materials and supplies they need, said Bill Rafferty, who leads the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center South-Central Region office based at SwRI. 

The alliance is a partnership between the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center South-Central Region, San Antonio Manufacturers Association, SwRI, Fusion Success Group, and Bexar County’s Economic and Community Development Department.

“The immediate focus is to help the regional manufacturing sector to identify products and source materials so they can retool plants to meet these needs,” Rafferty said in the statement.

Alliance members are sharing resources like mask designs and face shield materials with local manufacturers such as SA Lighthouse for the Blind, Jon Hart Design, Dixie Flag, and others, Rafferty told the Rivard Report. The alliance is also helping local manufactures understand health and safety standards for face shields and other medical equipment, he said. 

In cases where items such as face masks or shields are not made to pre-approved Food and Drug Administration requirements, the alliance is recommending labeling to alert users, Rafferty said.

While some of the customers requesting shields from local manufacturers are health care professionals, many are also essential businesses that have been operating or businesses set to potentially reopen this Friday following state orders issued Monday by Gov. Greg Abbott, Rafferty said. Some of these businesses include SwRI, restaurants, and supply chain providers, he said. 

The alliance will continue to help better position local manufacturers to supply medical PPE and equipment throughout the country even after businesses reopen, Rafferty added.  

“Through the alliance, we are helping respond to immediate needs and plan for the future,” said Ray Chavez, the president and CEO of the local manufacturers’ association.

Many manufacturers are still independently producing face shields and medical equipment in San Antonio as well, such as Toyota, Boeing, and other companies.

Toyota is set to donate 30,000 face shields locally as they are produced; the company’s initial shipment of 11,000 face shields was dispatched to the Emergency Operations Center at the Brooks development this month, according to a statement issued by Toyota. 

Melissa Sparks, external affairs for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, said about 20 of the company’s San Antonio employees have been working on face shield production for the past couple of weeks. 

In total, the State of Texas is slated to receive 40,000 face shields from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, she said.

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Boeing has been 3D-printing face shields in a dozen different cities, including in San Antonio, since the beginning of April, said Laura Swift, local communications specialist for Boeing. 

The company has been aiming to produce and deliver over 2,000 face shields per week since the start of the month, Swift said. Completed face shields have been donated for distribution to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

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Boeing is producing face shields alongside its normal operations in 12 locations, she said, including Boeing’s Puget Sound location where 27,000 worried workers recently returned after a three-week furlough.

No San Antonio Boeing employees have been furloughed or laid off, and the local facility located at Port San Antonio has been operating throughout the pandemic while adhering to increased safety measures, Swift said.

While Toyota and Boeing haven’t been an active part of the alliance, Rafferty said the alliance is available to help any manufacturers who are needing connections or resources, or who want to offer assistance.  

“We would like the alliance to be a sustaining solution,” he said.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett reports on business and technology for the Rivard Report.