Tennessee companies changing production to meet pandemic needs

BY KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) is using social media to highlight the way Tennessee companies are helping their communities during the crisis, shifting production to manufacture items ranging from hand sanitizer to protective gear to toilet paper.
In an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, Tennessee Distillers Guild members are pivoting their production efforts from distilled spirits to sanitizing products to help support essential workers throughout the state.
So far, 23 distilleries belonging to the guild have produced and provided hand sanitizer and sanitizing surface cleaning products to hundreds of hospitals, nursing homes, police and fire departments, EMS services, postal workers, food ministries and health care facilities throughout the state.
Kris Tatum, president of the Tennessee Distillers Guild and co-owner of Pigeon Forge-based Old Forge Distillery, said the group is working with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) to ensure sanitizer gets into the hands that need it most.
“We saw a need in our communities, and we are on a mission to make a difference,” Tatum said.
Among the guild distilleries who have switched production are the Big Machine Distillery in Lynnville and Nashville, Memphis-based B.R. Distilling Company, Chattanooga Whiskey Distillery, Nashville-based Corsair Distillery, Gatlinburg’s Doc Collier Moonshine, Chattanooga-based Gate 11 Distillery, Pigeon Forge-based Junction 35 Distillery, Leipers Fork Distillery, Bristol-based Lost State Distillery, Nashville Craft Distillery, Nashville-based Nelsons Green Brier Distillery, Memphis-based Old Dominick Distillery, Pigeon Forge’s Old Forge Distillery, Clarksville’s Old Glory Distillery, Gatliburg-based Old Smoky Distillery, Gatlinburg’s Sugarlands Distilling Company, Sevierville’s Tennessee Legend Distillery, Shelbyville’s Uncle Nearest Distillery, Woodbury’s Short Mountain Distillery, and the Lynchburg Winery and the American Craft Distillery in Lynchburg.
Lynchburg-based Jack Daniels has also switched one of their distilleries from making its trademark whiskey to producing hand sanitizer with a goal of producing 20 million bottles to be distributed nationwide. Jack Daniel’s North American Branch President John Hayes said the company has produced a specialty hand sanitizer brand before given out as a promotion to emergency officials.
“We realize that the need is so great,” Hayes said. “That we’re happy to announce we had dedicated one of our distilleries that we call Jack Daniel’s No. 2 to making industrial amounts of ethanol,” said Hayes. “In fact, we delivered our first tanker truck full of ethanol to our commercial partner where they’re going to be making roughly 20 million six-ounce bottles for a month for us. So, we’re making 2 million gallons of ethanol a month for this effort.”
Non-guild distilleries, like the Tennessee Hills Distillery in Jonesborough, have also switched to making hand sanitizer.
Memphis shipping giant FedEx is part of the public-private partnership known as Project Airbridge. FedEx has contracted with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide expedited shipping of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies critical to COVID-19 relief efforts. FedEx Express aircraft are being used to transport critical PPE supplies from manufacturers around the world to the U.S. The operation aims to accelerate delivery of PPE and other medical supplies, moving them via air instead of ocean.
“As a company, we are committed to providing our essential services as we help combat this pandemic,” said Raj Subramaniam, chief operating officer of FedEx. “Our participation in the federal government’s Project Airbridge to transport critical PPE and medical supplies into the United States is the latest example of FedEx team members around the world coming together to keep critical supply chains moving.”
Some businesses are also working to make PPE for the use of medical officials in the state and elsewhere. Nashville-headquartered Smile Direct Club is one of the largest 3D printing manufacturers in the U.S. and turned its capabilities over to printing masks and needed medical supplies.
“In times like these, it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to help those in need however we can,” said Smile Direct Club Chief Executive Officer David Katzman. “Due to recent automations that increased our printing output capacity, we’re able to easily add this production to our current clear aligner therapy lines.”
Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical partnered with universities and TCATs throughout the state to help facilitate the printing and assembling of protective masks while Memphis-based respirator mask manufacturer Radians donated more than 14,000 masks to medical professionals in Shelby County.
Beginning in April, the Carhart factory in Camden joined other company factories in shifting from manufacturing outdoor gear into making gowns and protective gear for medical professionals. Carhartt’s Senior Vice President of Supply Chain William Hardy said this isn’t the first time the company has made such a monumental shift.
“It’s really natural for us in this time of need to serve and protect a different group of workers right now, a group of workers that are in dire need of the right PPE,” Hardy said. “In World War I and World War II, we retooled our plants and made uniforms for the soldiers. We salute hard working people of every walk of life, and right now is the time where we’re going to provide a service for those who are out there battling this pandemic on the front lines.”
Other companies are also finding ways to help their fellow Tennesseans. Nashville-based Genesco is allowing TEMA to utilize 25,000-square-feet of space at its Lebanon distribution center for Journey’s shoes to aid in pandemic response.
Tyson Foods, which has a sizable footprint in West Tennessee, has expanded its hunger relief efforts in response to COVID-19. Since March 2, the company has donated approximately 2.6 million pounds of product in 18 states and is working to donate an additional 1.5 million pounds. A total of four million pounds, or 16 million meals, are being donated by Tyson Foods to team members, Feeding America food banks, community pantries near their operations, and other hunger relief agencies.
Calhoun-based Resolute Forest Products is also switching gears, producing toilet paper to meet with demand. One of the largest pulp, paper, and tissue manufacturing facilities in North America, the Calhoun facility has reduced to only making one variety of tissue paper so they can produce more tissue paper for the market.
Officials with TNECD said they are looking for more stories of everyday heroes working to stop the spread of COVID-19 and help neighbors get through this unprecedented time. If you know someone who fits this description, email them at ECD.Communications.Office@tn.gov.