With the increased demand for food and medical products during the COVID-19 pandemic, Charter NEX Films headquartered in Milton has been busy.
The manufacturer makes specialty films for flexible food packaging, personal protective equipment and for other markets at its seven production facilities.
One Charter NEX film is being used to create Tier 3 isolation gowns manufactured by Kenosha-based Jockey International in partnership with Georgia-based Encompass Group.
“To me, it’s a story about this American spirit of ‘get it done,’” 1st Congressional District Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, said in a phone interview.
A formal announcement of the initiative was made by Jockey Chairman and CEO Debra Waller at the White House COVID-19 Task Force press briefing March 30. According to a news release from Jockey, the company plans initially to donate 250,000 gowns at a pace of 30,000 to 50,000 units per week.
As it became known that there was a shortage of PPE, Steil reached out to companies in his Congressional district.
Among the first to contact him was Jockey, a company that during WWII made parachutes for the US military. Steil helped connect Jockey with the president’s coronavirus task force.
After getting approval to begin production, Jockey again contacted Steil with one “hiccup.” Jockey was told a film they needed would not be delivered for four weeks. When asked if he knew anyone at Charter NEX, Steil laughed. Before he became a congressman, he was the company’s general legal counsel.
Steil made calls to make sure Charter NEX knew the order was critical to producing thousands of medical gowns for nurses and doctors on the front lines.
“We weren’t aware that we were holding things up,” said Charter NEX CEO Kathy Bolhous.
After Charter NEX became aware of the importance of the order, the company moved it to the front of the line at its plant in Bloomer.
Charter NEX had not worked with Encompass before, Bolhous said, but it had made films for medical gowns.
In Bloomer, the leadership team basically worked a double shift to get the medical gown film produced, she said.
“In the morning, we were able to ship off the trial roll to make sure that the film we developed was going to work,” she said. “We received feedback that the film worked a couple days later, and we went right into production.”
Bolhous said an order is about 50,000 pounds of film.
The run will be ongoing.
“It depends on what Jockey and Encompass need from us,” she said. “I’m not sure we have a full forecast because I’m not sure they know how long they’re going to be making gowns or how many are going to be needed. We’ll go back into production as often as we need to supply their needs.”