PITTSFIELD — A Guilford company that produces about 20 million coronavirus testing swabs monthly will be able to double that number and hire at least 150 workers as it expands the operation in a building Cianbro Corp. owns in Pittsfield and is retrofitting for that work.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Cianbro Chairman Peter Vigue, and officials of Puritan Medical Products LLC and Hardwood Products Co. LLC, of Guilford, announced the project Thursday outside the 129 North Main St. building in Pittsfield. Puritan and Hardwood are owned by the same family.

Puritan is one of the top two makers of testing swabs in the world, according to Kaiser Health News. The swab used for COVID-19 testing has a plastic handle with synthetic materials attached at the tip. The handle of the swab must be long enough to reach past the nasal cavity into the upper part of the throat to perform the test.

“The sooner we can expand testing, the sooner we can open all of the economy and get back to normal,” Collins said.

Bath Iron Works is making 30 of the 40 machines needed to manufacture the swabs. Vigue said those 30 machines will be installed in the building in the next few weeks.

Collins said the $75.5 million to fund the project comes from Defense Protection Act money included in the CARES Act to increase domestic capacity to produce materials to combat COVID-19.

Puritan sells its products to major medical distributors such as Cardinal Health and McKesson Medical-Surgical, but since the onset of the pandemic, the company provides swabs directly to the federal government.

John Cartwright, general partner at both Puritan and Hardwood, welcomed the more than two dozen people who turned out for the event, saying Cianbro is retrofitting the building quickly, a project that normally would take about a year.

“Today is a proud moment for Hardwood Products and Puritan Medical,” he said.

The building, he said later, is about 150,000 square feet in size, and officials anticipate that at least 150 people will be hired to work there. He said the building is expected to be up and running in about 60 days.

“This is not going to affect the production in Guilford,” Cartwright said, adding that employees will continue to work in Guilford six or seven days a week, producing swabs.

Timothy Templet, also a general partner in both Puritan and Hardwood and executive vice president of global sales for Puritan, said Puritan develops high-quality medical products and officials are proud to join the federal government in helping to ensure every American can be tested.

The Guilford based company had been producing one million COVID-19 tests per week in addition to 65 other types of swabs and 1,200 single-use items. Earlier this month, the company hired 31 new workers to join the 300 person production staff to keep up with the demand for the coronavirus swabs.

Sen. Susan Collins puts her New Balance-manufactured face mask back on Thursday after making remarks at an announcement that Puritan Medical Products will occupy a building in Pittsfield refurbished by Cianbro where coronavirus testing swabs will be manufactured. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Collins lauded the companies for their “extraordinary leadership” and said the project is going to make a real difference ramping up the manufacture of swabs that are essential to coronavirus testing as the country tries to improve in the midst of the pandemic. She said that she toured Puritan Medical and Hardwood Products across the street from Puritan earlier in the day.

“I will tell you, the employees of Puritan are so energized, so dedicated, so hard-working and so caring,” she said. “They understand just how important the work they are doing is to the health and safety of our country.”

Collins also praised Bath Iron Works for its part in the effort.

“To see Bath Iron Works put its engineering skills to work and the skills of its people to work to manufacture the machines that are going to be in this building shows the great partnership we have with Cianbro, with Puritan and with BIW, and I am so proud of these Maine businesses for stepping up for meeting the challenge.”

Collins was wearing a face mask she said was made by New Balance in Norridgewock.

“That’s just another great example of Maine companies stepping forward and helping our nation,” she said.

The building to be used for swab manufacturing was used years ago by United Technologies, but the company moved operations to Mexico and China, eliminating 300 jobs and leaving a huge void in the community and state, according to Vigue. The building was used for smoke alarm production.

Vigue said Cianbro will be in the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with workers rebuilding the facility to provide the housing necessary for the  manufacturing of the swabs there.

Scott Wellman, chief financial officer for Hardwood and Puritan, said afterward the 150 positions will at the facility will be full time and include benefits.

“We want to help the unemployment problem right now,” he said.

Wellman said that the companies are working with the state Department of Labor to communicate with people who need jobs, and they will be advertised.

Puritan Medical in Guilford produces millions of swabs a week for coronavirus testing. The swabs are long enough to reach through the nasal cavity to the upper part of the throat. Photo courtesy of Scott Wellman

“We’re hoping that really quickly we’re going to get the word out,” he said.

Puritan Medical Products started making swabs in 1965 and was certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1975.

Puritan’s parent company, Hardwood Products Co., began making mint-flavored toothpicks in 1919 but added to its product line over the years to include tipped applicators, tongue depressors, disposable woodenware for the food and dairy and craft industries, including ice cream sticks, spoons and skewers.

With about $55 million in annual revenue, Hardwood is the biggest employer in Piscataquis County, the least-populated county in the state with just 17,000 residents. Guilford’s population was 1,500 when documented for the 2010 census.

Morning Sentinel writer Molly Shelly contributed to this story.

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