Before the rest of the United States even really began to worry about the possibility of a COVID-19 pandemic, Andalusia’s Frank Henderson, president and CEO at Henderson Sewing Machine Co., had a bit of a heads-up that a global crisis was coming. 

Henderson, who often travels internationally for his business, said he got his first whiff of the trouble ahead in Japan in January. He was supposed to meet two friends in the Osaka airport, but they never called up. He called them.

I learned that they were in quarantine for 14 days after coming back from China,” he said. “They told me what was transpiring in Wuhan, and what China was experiencing. So that immediately threw up a red flag for me. I returned home and told my team, ‘folks, there is something that might be coming here that we need to be prepared for.’ ”

Soon, he began receiving numerous queries such as “where can I find nonwoven fabrics?” and “how do I make masks?” so Henderson said he began to see his company’s role in the fight as a channel of information as well as a provider of equipment and systems for PPE production.

“We brought our staff together and said, ‘team, we all need to work now, but in order to do that, we need to be safe here,’ ” he said. “So everyone who walks into our building in the last four weeks has their temperature taken before they can enter. And they wear gloves and N95 masks. I have N95 masks because I have friends in the rest of the world who sent them to us. A local nursing home here in town had no masks, so we sent about 240 of them to help.”

As of mid-April, Henderson Sewing had placed 27 automated face mask systems in 14 states – from Maine to California, as well as in Canada – to produce face masks in a vertically integrated supply chain, starting with fabric through the folding process to ultrasonically cut, seal and attach to products that are packed either in singles or fives and 10s up to 20s for shipment, he said.

“We're already looking at Version 2 of those supply chains now in changing those systems to servos, steppers, drives and those kind of things to make them even more productive and efficient,” Henderson said.

Like his fellow speakers during a recent webinar hosted jointly by SEAMS, The Association & Voice of the U.S. Sewn Products Industry, and SPESA, The Sewn Products Equipment & Suppliers of the Americas, Henderson said he is putting in more time now than he ever has in order to answer the nation’s call.

“I haven’t worked very many seven days and seven nights over the last 45 years, but I certainly have over the last three or four weeks,” he said. “I’m on about 20 regular calls a day and six or seven conference calls a day.”

But the reward has been enormous as he sees a lifelong dream becoming a reality, he added.

“For us, it’s a joy to see our industry activated in a completely vertical supply chain here in America, with everybody working together the way we have been,” Henderson said. “Some of us have been waiting most of our lives to see this happen. For me it’s been 45 years – 45 years of seeing our industry gutted and decimated and shipped all over the world, to now being able to say these are essential items needed in America. These are essential items for the health and wellbeing of our people. And I hope our government will tune in to see that these products are just as essential as a military uniform or ammunition. Why aren't these items Berry compliant also? I think it's a question we all have to ask going forward.

“I think for each of us, it’s a new day, a new time, and it's an opportunity for each one of us to share, one with the other, and also I hope it’s an opportunity for us to build this vertical supply chain for things that some of us have waited a long, long time to see come back here to America,” he continued. “We can do that and we can compete with the rest of the world if we're equally yoked – not unequally yoked. But it's hard to do that if a government is subsidizing an industry and trying to push many of us out of business and out of the speed-to-market-type of scenario.”

Henderson’s story was reported by Devin Steel of Read the entire article, ‘It’s a new day, a new time,’ here