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From Medical Gowns to CDC Billboards, Cooley Group Is Making It Happen

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Cooley Group, a Rhode Island manufacturer that makes engineered geomembranes, building products and commercial graphics, has taken on many roles in supporting the response to COVID-19.

As a company that already produces items like respiratory vests, blood pressure cuffs and medical bedding, Cooley was well versed in the materials needed to support patients and protect medical staff. As soon as the pandemic hit, it began working on testing and manufacturing medical gowns. Today, their facilities in South Carolina and Rhode Island are producing high-quality Level 3 and Level 4 medical gowns that protect against moderate and high risks—and those gowns are being shipped to medical professionals at a rate of approximately a million square feet per week.

“It took us about two weeks to develop the material, perform full testing and certification and roll it into what is now full-scale production,” said Cooley Group President and CEO Dan Dwight. “We’re shipping this out by the truckload.”

Cooley has also found other ways to respond to COVID-19. According to the company’s leadership, around 70 percent of the billboards in North America are printed on Cooley-produced material. Through a partnership with the Ad Council and outdoor media companies, Cooley has been donating material and services to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other entities that want to use those billboards for public messaging. Currently, there are more than 50 locations around the country where CDC messaging is printed on donated Cooley material.

As with any venture, Dwight’s advice to other manufacturers seeking to make a difference is to find the best application for your organization’s existing skills and assets.

“Our view was, we needed to pick our targeted sweet spots and then put all our effort into it,” said Dwight. “What do you already do well, and how do you apply it? We prioritize innovation, so we knew we could produce something that would be new and creative. We prioritize high performance, so we wanted to focus on higher-end products that take advantage of our capabilities.”

Dwight also believes that the cooperative nature of the manufacturing industry has been helpful in weathering difficult times.

“We’ve always had a collaborative culture, and we know the benefit of sharing best practices,” said Dwight. “Now that collaboration is not about Manufacturing 4.0 or the Internet of Things—it’s about surviving a pandemic. But it’s built into the way we do things.”

“Manufacturers across the country are working tirelessly to make sure that people have the products they need,” said National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. “As we face this moment of uncertainty and challenge, manufacturers are showing again and again that we are committed to doing our part.”

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