By Debbie Adams
Precision Fabrics Group (PFG) has been in business in Vinton since 1988. While the company prefers to keep a low profile, it has proven to be a great corporate citizen in that time, with support for the Vinton community, its citizens, and its events, most recently with donations of land to the greenway.
Now, in this time of the COVID-19 crisis, it is proving to be great national and international corporate citizens as well, and an important link in the chain of providing protective medical gear.
PFG engineers highly mission-critical fabrics, both woven and nonwoven, that include personal protective gear (such as masks, drapes, and gowns), wipes for the pharmaceutical industry, and personal hygiene fabrics for the consumer. The medical fabrics are directly involved in the coronavirus fight— for the medical community, the military, and the pharmaceutical industry.
PFG is most definitely an “essential business,” as production of these items is vital to maintain the infrastructure needed to successfully fight COVID-19. Their leadership says that PFG has no plans to stop operations at any of their plants and will continue to operate in a safe and healthy manner as directed by the Centers for Disease Control.
Vinton PFG Plant Manager Mike Maust says that the surgeon and isolation gowns, drapes, and masks are the products in the highest demand right now.
The fabric for the products is manufactured at the Vinton plant and then shipped to the Greensboro plant to be finished/dyed. It is then shipped to a customer to be cut and sewn into the final product.
Maust says production is being expanded and expedited because of the coronavirus. PFG has 200 local associates and “every person will impact these products in some way.”
“The PFG Vinton folks make these opportunities possible by making world class product,” said Maust. “We truly have the greatest associates around!”
That sentiment is echoed by PFG CEO Walt Jones, who commented to his employees, “Your continued efforts to show up for work each day are truly appreciated and you are making a significant difference in this healthcare crisis.”
Precision Fabrics has evolved from a traditional textile company into an engineered materials business, focused on highly technical, high quality woven and nonwoven fabrics. PFG employs approximately 600 associates and operates plants in Vinton, North Carolina, and Tennessee. PFG is one of the three largest employers in the Town of Vinton.
The Vinton plant specializes in weaving some of the most technically challenging continuous-filament fabrics in the world. Their nonwoven medical fabrics are used to create a broad variety of technical products used throughout the entire healthcare market. The Greensboro and Madison, Tennessee, facilities are world-class in the range of nonwoven products produced.
The PFG plant was originally known as the Roanoke Weaving Company, built in 1936, and then became Burlington Industries. (Strangely enough, the first product produced at the plant was typewriter ribbon.) For many years, regular textile fabrics were produced there. PFG bought out Burlington in 1988 and continues as a private company today, but with quite a different product line.
In 1999, PFG donated one million yards of nylon filter material they produced to the World Health Organization campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease, which is caused by drinking water contaminated by microscopic larvae. The larvae migrate inside the victim’s body and grow exponentially. The worms emerge from the body months later through painful blisters causing scarring and polio-like crippling. In some areas of Asia and Africa over 50 percent of the population became disabled by the disease, which can be prevented by filtering the water. With the help of PFG, the incidence of the disease has dropped by 99 percent; the number of cases has fallen from 3.5 million to less than 35,000.
In another example of community spirit, several years ago, hundreds of small blue tubes appeared on the lawn of the Vinton PFG almost overnight, protecting 1,100 hardwood seedlings the company had planted to help improve the environment and the water quality of nearby Tinker Creek.
Maust is filled with praise for the PFG associates in Vinton.
“In spite of all the fear and panic around coronavirus, and everyone wanting to isolate themselves at home, our folks are putting that all aside, doing the best they and we can to protect ourselves, and showing up for work with a purpose and an understanding of how we are literally saving lives,” said Maust. “This is a special place because of the people that work here!
“We should feel very proud that just in the last week, our Medical/Protective Apparel business has exploded,” Maust said. “We currently have just under a million square yards of fabric we need to make, and the phone continues to ring with customers begging to get this stuff as fast as we can make it. These fabrics are saving lives and allowing medical professionals to continue to do their job of protecting and taking care of our neighbors across this country and abroad.
“Sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective in the midst of the media blitz concerning coronavirus,” he told employees. “Unemployment is headed to 20 percent from all-time lows of 3 percent and below. The news is full of hardship cases where businesses have been forced to shut down. I’m sure many of you either have family or close friends that are part of that crisis.
“This is a great opportunity for us to truly make a difference,” he said. “We are literally on the forefront in the fight against the coronavirus and at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s really all about– making a difference in this world? Well, we are absolutely doing that right now.
“You also see on the news everyday how the shortage of medical apparel/protective equipment– gowns, masks, gloves, etc.– is really hampering this country’s ability to fight coronavirus and it puts our medical professionals, and their patients, at risk every day.
“These products that we produce are essential to the coronavirus fight. It is imperative that we stay healthy and protect ourselves from getting sick. We need everyone at work (but not if you’re sick) so we can meet these high demands for these critical products. Control your own destiny. Keep your hands clean, pay attention to social distancing, eat and rest well, etc.
“Thank you for all the hard work. We have a lot of looms to get started and they need to be started efficiently and with world class quality. Every person in the plant has an important role in making this happen. We feel strongly that at least for a while, these products will continue to be in high demand, and we will continue to be pressured for quick deliveries. As always, the Vinton associates will step up and we can look back one day and know we played a significant part in the ‘war’ we’re currently in with this pandemic.”