Pandemic-driven layoffs were cutting deep through Reed City Group LLC until President and CEO John Barnett got a phone call that turned a time of great uncertainty into an opportunity so big that the company went on a buying spree for injection molding machines.

Barnett had been dealing with job cuts, risk management scenarios and safety protocols to protect the remaining employees at the Reed City, Mich., plant from COVID-19.

Layoffs were happening in phases at the 61-year-old injection molder that also offers tooling and custom machine building. The first round hit the production crew of the company, which generated about 65 percent of its $24 million in 2019 sales from the automotive market.

“We had ongoing projects with a couple of our medical customers, so we were in a position to continue with the production of those tools as an essential employer,” Barnett told Plastics News. “Fortunately, our team was also awarded a few hot tooling projects for these customers related to the pandemic, but we had no idea how long this type of business would allow us to continue to stay open.”

Then, Barnett got a call from an engineer who works with one of Reed City Group’s customers. The engineer was affiliated with an OEM, and he told Barnett about a chance to be part of the General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. supply chain initiative to manufacture personal protective equipment.

Barnett knew about the efforts to create an Arsenal of Health to beat back the deadly respiratory disease similar to how the Arsenal of Democracy cranked out military tanks, planes and weapons during World War II.

“President [Donald] Trump was working with GM and Ford to leverage the automotive supplier management team in conjunction with their private sector manufacturing partners to quickly build respirators and ventilators and get them to the market,” Barnett said. “This initiative was front and center in the national news. We saw an amazing opportunity to help, so we threw our hat in the ring.”

The OEM, who Barnett can’t name because of a nondisclosure agreement, knew of the company’s tooling expertise but not all its capabilities. Reed City Group was not a direct part supplier of this OEM, making any business award more challenging for the sourcing committees. But through the vetting process, Barnett said his team showed they had the right people in the right places and they could provide a high-quality product to market at the speed required.

“Through the week I was having conversations with people from one level of the organization to the next,” Barnett said. “After gaining the understanding of our full capabilities from high-quality tool manufacturing to full production and automation under one roof, then having some dialogue with our key team members that were going to be the ones responsible to bring this home, I think they gained a high level of confidence in us. We were very hopeful and honestly prayerful that we would get the project.”

A week later, hopes were fulfilled and prayers answered. Barnett said his next phone call with the OEM was about being awarded the majority of the plastic pieces to be injection molded for a major PPE customer.

Along with the good news, came some warnings and a question about all the visibility surrounding the projects to manufacture ventilators to help patients breathe and powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) to keep front-line health care workers safe from the virus.

Barnett said he was asked, “Are you guys sure you can handle this? There is a lot of visibility. We have daily reporting to the White House on this project. That’s a lot of pressure. Can you and your team handle it? And we said, ‘Absolutely we can handle it. Bring it on.'”