Big Day for Guilford, and Puritan Medical Products
GUILFORD – Not much happens in a small, rural Maine town that makes the history books. That changed on June 5, when United States President Donald J. Trump came to town to thank Hardwood Products/Puritan Medical Products employees who have been working 10 hour days, seven days a week to provide the nation with COVID-19 testing swabs.
“The employees and the company were honored to have the president come and recognize the work our people have been doing,” said CFO Scott Wellman. “Everyone has been working extremely hard and taking on extra projects to help the country, and to have the president thank them for the work they’re doing was an amazing experience.”
Wellman also set the record straight Monday morning regarding rumors of wasted swabs. “This was essentially a day off for our employees. Those people came in because they wanted to be part of the demonstration on the floor,” he said. “It was planned. We knew we were not going to keep the items that were there, but it wasn’t because the president was not wearing a mask. There were a huge number of people in the room – mostly media – who did not have on hair nets, booties and smocks, because of the time requirements. That’s why we needed to dispose of a very small amount of product. We knew the tour was going to be 15 minutes; you’re not making a lot in 15 minutes.
“We wanted our employees to be able to experience this, the time with the president talking with them,” Wellman continued. “It was a great moment that’s never going to get reported and will never get seen that really meant a lot to the employees in the room.”
About 2,000 Trump supporters poured into Guilford on Friday morning, and about 80 protesters, according to Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office estimates. Many Piscataquis residents were surprised and more than a little thrilled when the presidential motorcade rolled through the region around noon on their way to the staging area at the Piscataquis Community High School.
President Trump arrived at BIA aboard Air Force One around 1:55 p.m., pausing for a round table discussion with representatives from Maine’s seafood industry, and signing a proclamation reopening the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to commercial fishing. He then boarded Marine One for his flight to the PCHS athletic fields, accompanied by three Osprey helicopters.
The president traveled by motorcade from PCHS, waving and giving a thumbs up to people lining the streets. After the 15-minute production tour at Hardwood, President Trump was escorted to the warehouse, which had been staged as an impromptu event venue with space for about 150 employees, chosen by lottery.
“I want to be the first person to thank every one of you, and also all of our employees that couldn’t be here in this room with us today, for the hard work that you guys have been doing during this emergency,” said Wellman, before introducing President Trump. “We’re on the front lines, fighting COVID-19 and you guys are working extra hours and putting in amazing effort and you’re certainly making a huge difference for the United States. Every one of you has made sacrifices to make sure that we’re producing the high-quality products the country needs so desperately. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for everything that you’ve been doing.”
The company, already a leader in producing highly sensitive DNA swabs in a clean environment, quickly switched gears in March at the request of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Puritan employees have produced 20 million COVID-19 swabs per month -- but more are needed. In April, President Trump used the Defense Production Act to provide $75.5 million to Puritan, allowing the company to hire more workers, and build a second plant in Pittsfield. About 200 new employees have already been hired; another 150 are anticipated at the Pittsfield location.
“The administration has been supporting us and our company and all of you as the people in ways we never could have imagined before,” Wellman said. “It has been an amazing partnership. They’ve made it possible for us to quickly build a new factory. By July 1 we’ll have it open. They’re allowing us to build it in that timeframe with custom equipment in it and have it ready so we can make more swabs that are needed. We really want to also thank the administration for what they’ve done for us, for our great company here in Guilford, Maine.”
President Trump took the stage to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and the cheers of attendees.
“I just want to thank you all,” said the president. “You’re very special people and this is a great plant and it’s doing a phenomenal job. Thank you very much.”
The president said he came to Maine to “say hello to the hard working men and women of Puritan Medical Products. Great company. The incredible workers of this company have carried on the noble tradition of American manufacturing excellence for more than 100 years. Now our nation has turned to you as we massively increase our unrivaled testing capacity.”
He thanked the company and its employees on behalf of the nation. “Thanks to the testing capacity that you’re making possible, our country is reopening and our economy is recovering like nobody would have thought possible,” said President Trump. “Earlier today it was announced that the U.S. economy added 2.5 million jobs in May. It was supposed to lose nine million, you know, during this period of transition. I call it transition to greatness, but it’s coming a little earlier than I thought, and that’s okay.”
President Trump said that, “every person here today is playing a vital role in the greatest national, industrial mobilization since WWII. We’ve marshalled the full power of the U.S. government and U.S. industry to defeat the invisible enemy.” He said that ultimately, Puritan will be able to produce 60 million swabs per month. “To accomplish this tremendous increase, you partnered with another legendary Maine institution -- you’ve never heard of this, I’m sure – Bath Iron Works -- builder of some of the most powerful war ships in the United States Navy for over 135 years. They do a great job. Under the Defense Production Act, Bath Iron Works is now producing the complex machinery you need to manufacture tens of millions more swabs.”
President Trump also said he wanted to, “take a moment just to recognize a few of the hardworking patriots – and that’s what they are – of Maine, who were instrumental in this colossal effort that you’ve done at Puritan.”
Angelita Buschur, an operator in Puritan’s laboratory kit manufacturing area, was invited to the podium, where she said that “since the coronavirus hit, we have spent every day making millions of swabs that help save lives, and help people save the world. I am so grateful to this company and for the chance to serve our country, that the best way we can pay back is to work harder.” Buschur also thanked President Trump for his leadership.
Next up was Tracy Porter, lead tipping and packaging technician, who said “More often than not when we see news about a crisis in the world, we lament that few of us have any chance of changing the outcome. Today, we find ourselves blessed with this opportunity to make a difference.”
Porter said that even prior to the pandemic he and his coworkers were wishing for more machines to fill orders faster and keep customer costs down. “Well, it looks like we’re going to have enough equipment now,” he said. “We look forward to working with two great Maine companies like Cianbro Construction and Bath Iron Works and I want to thank you, Mr. President, for making it all come together.”
And finally, President Trump introduced Derek McKenney, the senior manufacturing engineer at Puritan, and a project manager for the new manufacturing plant. When McKenney said his mother had been with the company for 35 years, President Trump motioned for “Mom” Wendy McKenney to join her son on the stage. The younger McKenney said, “I’ve been presented with many amazing opportunities to make a difference in the world with Puritan’s critical products. But nothing compared to that day on March 12 when we got the call from the White House Task Force. From that day forward, I’ve been part of a team who’ve chosen to rise up and serve their country and the American people.”
McKenney said that the new plant in Pittsfield would normally have taken 18 months to build, rather than the eight weeks made possible through the support of the federal government, “and the dedication of the phenomenal workforce here in the great state of Maine. This company, and all these people, are what make the United States of America the greatest country in the world. God bless you all!”
In conclusion, President Trump again thanked the company and the employees. “You and your families are making momentous contributions to the vitality of our country, helping us reopen, rebuild, and most importantly, saving lives. We will vanquish the virus, we will get our nation back to work, and we shall build our glorious future with American hands, American grit, and American pride.”
Keeping the discourse civil
A presidential visit in the midst of a pandemic and nationwide civil rights protest is not without controversy. While most in the region were excited about President Donald J. Trump’s visit to Guilford, and even those who were lukewarm about the current president acknowledged that a presidential visit is a huge honor and exciting thing for this area, there were some concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, the number of people being drawn into the region, and potential clashes between Trump supporters and protesters.
“In ordinary times, a presidential visit to Guilford, Maine would be a great thing, regardless of who the president is,” said Piscataquis County Sheriff Robert Young in a statement issued on Facebook earlier in the week. “Sadly, at this time, our nation is so full of strife and rancor, that the good nature of his coming is overshadowed by the politics of our time. It would be good if folks let the employees of Hardwood Products / Puritan Medical Products have their moment of recognition, as the president, on behalf of the nation, expresses our collective thanks. They have, after all, stepped up in a huge way to provide much needed testing supplies to help battle the pandemic.”
And after the event, Young took to Facebook again to thank everyone for what turned out to be a relatively peaceful and positive day.
“The president’s visit has come and gone. It was a good day for Guilford and one surely to be long remembered,” Young wrote. “While crowd size is difficult to measure, we’re estimating at least 2000 people lined the main drag. It was a good day for the president’s supporters and protestors. While loud at times as they cheered and jeered back and forth, they allowed each other space and things were peaceful. No arrests, no damage, only minor issues. Wish the rest of the country could catch this same spirit. Disagree passionately while allowing others the space to think differently.” Young said later that there were an estimated 80 protesters present, as well.
The sheriff said he was grateful for the “tremendous and capable assistance we received from other law enforcement agencies: sixty sheriffs and deputies from around the state; an equal number of Maine state troopers; a strong contingent of US Border Patrol officers; Maine game wardens; the FBI; and the very impressive Secret Service. Like a well-crafted puzzle, law enforcement worked in unity and accord. When the president comes to town, there is no stone left unturned and no detail left to chance. My thanks to the many officers who spent a hot day under a burning sun to make this a day of celebration for the folks of Puritan Medical/Hardwood Products.”
Young said he is proud to be the sheriff in a county where people cheer as a cruiser rolls down the street, where people shake hands with officers and thank them for their service.“I know life is different in rural settings,” he said. “Issues change and while people are people, there’s a different way of looking at life. Rural life doesn’t work for everyone. For those who’ve come to appreciate the slower pace, the meaning of ‘neighbor’ and the simpler things, it works. It was a good day for Guilford and for Piscataquis County. The president came to town. Yahoo!”