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One bright spot surrounding COVID-19 has been the ways the local business community has restructured operations to meet needs prompted by the pandemic, something that continues to impress Barbara Jones.

“There have been so many businesses that have gone above and beyond that, it is hard to mention all or pick out just one,” Jones, the city manager of Mount Airy, commented late last week.

“Everyone was and is still using their business talents to help this community survive this terrible pandemic,” Jones added.

One of the most recent examples involves a local business known only by the code name “Project Sew” at this point. It is seeking a state grant aimed at allowing operations to expand and adding 35 workers for the production of personal protective equipment (PPE), a plan announced in January.

A shortage of such items — including face masks and sanitizing products — quickly emerged as the coronavirus began taking hold last year.

Local businesses responded in meaningful ways, according to a list provided by the city manager, which she and Surry County officials agree showcased those entities’ versatility and ability to adapt. A check of the history books will reveal the same type of response during World War II when companies retooled to supply items needed for America’s military efforts.

Jones’ list cites the roles of Renfro Corp., Surry Chemical, United Sewing Automation, Nester Hosiery, Unique Background Solutions, Workforce Unlimited, Granite Tactical Vehicles, Gates Pharmacy, Professional Rental Services, Pine State Marketing, J’s Office Supplies, and Awesome Products.

She included those as “examples of local companies who developed new product lines and services that helped our region respond to the many personal protective product shortages that were created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Such efforts directly addressed those critical needs, according to Jones.

“Local businesses began manufacturing and distributing masks — Renfro Corp., Nester Hosiery, Fish Hippie/United Sewing, to mention a few,” she detailed. “We had Surry Chemicals producing hand sanitizer, Gene Rees’ business making and distributing masks, and the list goes on.”

A similar list provided by Surry County further included such entities as U.S Ecology, Surry Machine and Fabrication, Tampco, Sport Solutions and Brown & Church/Gitman Brothers, which ventured into the sanitation or PPE industries while reflecting a keen entrepreneurial spirit.

The city manager says credit also is due to others that aren’t directly engaged in manufacturing but who have made contributions all the same.

“Our trucking companies I am sure have put in many long, hard hours getting food and merchandise to our grocery stores and related vendors to make sure people had food and supplies to keep their homes and businesses safe,” Jones mentioned.

“During this pandemic, numerous business owners went the extra mile to serve their patrons and provide food,” she pointed out regarding another key resource.

“Grocery stores and other retail vendors put up plexiglass for safety and marked areas for six-foot distancing as people were shopping to provide food and supplies for their families.”

Texwipe project

Although it is engaged in a different kind of sanitation focus, Illinois Tool Works, doing business as ITW Texwipe, is setting up shop in Mount Airy at the former Hanesbrands plant on West Pine Street.

Texwipe is a global manufacturer of contamination-control supplies which is investing more than $4.5 million in the local operation — including buying the property.

The company closed on the purchase of the former Hanesbrand building on Jan. 20, according to Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership.

Mount Airy officials voted on Jan. 21 to accept a performance-based grant of $75,000 from the One North Carolina Fund to help facilitate Texwipe’s expansion, which includes the creation of 33 jobs.

Texwipe is described as an innovative provider of contamination-control supplies and critical cleaning products for activities requiring sanitized manufacturing or other operational settings, including life sciences, semiconductor and other industries and environmental sampling.

The company announced last year that it was tuned in to the pandemic in terms of its product lines: “Texwipe fully supports the efforts to minimize the effects of this humanitarian crisis and will continue to monitor the situation to ensure consistent supply.”