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April 1, 2021

With $147M contract, Guilford swab maker goes out of state for 4th plant

Courtesy / Puritan Medical Products An aerial view of Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products’ recently opened factory in Pittsfield, where the company produces swabs used in COVID-19 tests and is also adding a third plant. The company plans a fourth facility in Tennessee.

Puritan Medical Products Co., the Guilford-based manufacturer that has multiplied its COVID-19 test swab production there and in Pittsfield over the past year, is heading south to open a fourth manufacturing facility.

The Department of Defense announced this week it has awarded Puritan a $146.8 million contract to expand swab production through the creation of a new plant in Orlinda, Tenn.

The contract, a modification of a previous agreement with the DoD, will allow Puritan to renovate an existing facility in Orlinda, about 45 minutes north of Nashville and just south of the Kentucky border. With the additional capacity, Puritan is expected to turn out a total of 250 million foam-tip swabs a month by February 2022, according to a news release.

That's about 12 times Puritan's monthly production before the company received initial federal funding of $75.5 million last spring to expand into a new plant, in Pittsfield. Another facility there followed.

Mainebiz reported last week that Puritan was planning to open a fourth manufacturing facility outside of New England, and that the new site would create 800 jobs.

“The government just wanted us to diversify where we were locating,” Puritan General Manager Scott Wellman, a 2021 Mainebiz Business Leader of the Year, said in an interview.

“It’s another hard shift for us because we are a family-owned business and we’ve always been based in rural Maine … When you start thinking we’re going to put a factory in another part of the country, we’re going to have to trust the people we hire in those locations.”

While Orlinda is a 1,300-mile departure from Guilford, Puritan may find a familiar feel in its new surroundings.

Like Guilford and Pittsfield, Orlinda is a rural community, with a population of about 900. Farms and agriculture businesses drive much of the local economy, and Robertson County, encompassing Orlinda, is known for growing tobacco, grains, beans and other crops.

Robertson County is bordered by two interstate highways, I-24 and I-65, putting Orlinda within a day’s drive of 75% of the nation’s population, according to the county.

Tennessee itself is something of a crossroads — it borders more states, eight, than any other except Missouri, which also shares a border with eight. In part because of its accessibility, Tennessee has become a popular site in recent years for large manufacturers and other businesses that rely on national transportation routes.

General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen all have major plants in the state, which produces 5% of all U.S.-made cars, light trucks and SUVs. FedEx has its headquarters and national logistics hub in Memphis.

Wellman would not disclose details about Puritan’s facility in Orlinda, and calls to officials there were not returned.

However, it appears at least one manufacturing plant is currently idled and perhaps available for a new use: the Orlinda Milling and Grain Co., which was dissolved in 2006. Its owner, according to state records, was Ricky Stark, currently the mayor of Orlinda.

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