Essential Work of Owens & Minor in Lehigh Valley Earns President’s Praise
By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on May 14, 2020
Owens & Minor, a leading medical supply wholesaler, landed in the national spotlight Thursday when President Donald Trump visited its Lehigh Valley distribution center to laud the company’s role and the work of its Lehigh Valley employees in the fight against COVID-19.
Nimbly ramping up production, Owens & Minor has delivered millions of pieces of critical personal protective equipment to health care workers treating those stricken by the novel coronavirus.
Owens & Minor, based in Virginia, is among five companies tapped by the federal government to collectively provide 600 million N95 respirator masks over the next 18 months. The company also recently partnered with the White House, New York City and UPS to produce 1 million cubic feet of non-woven, laminated material that was delivered to New York City garment workers to make medical gowns for the city’s hospitals.
“I’ve come to this major medical supply distribution hub because the workers here at Owens & Minor have played a critical role in this national effort, and it’s a critical role you’ve fulfilled incredibly well…” Trump told employees at the Upper Macungie Township facility. “From the moment this terrible virus reached our shores, each of you has worked relentlessly to get the vital supplies to our health care warriors.”
Trump was joined by key members of his administration including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Administrator of Federal Emergency Management Peter Gaynor, CEO of United States International Development Finance Corp. Adam Boehler and Rear Adm. John Polowczyk.
Three Owens & Minor employees took the stage to thank Trump for his visit and reaffirm the company’s commitment to shipping supplies to workers on the front line.
Dennis DiCarlo, an Owens & Minor operations supervisor, said it was “day-to-day business” with “little modifications” as they ship out medical supplies during the crisis.
“Whenever you’re dealing with the medical field, it’s – it’s a serious thing,” he said. “But…it’s exponentially grown with what we’re dealing with now. And if we make a mistake, it’s amplified.”
Eric Yost, who worked for the company for 26 years, recalled how technology streamlined the delivery of products to hospitals over the years so the company could meet the challenges of today.
“We got it in. We got it out,” Yost said, referring to the protective personal equipment during recent weeks. “We got it to the hospitals that were in dire need of all of this.”
Carol Timm, safety and training coordinator, called her co-workers the “unsung heroes that save lives every day.” She recalled the moment her team got the order to start transporting the masks and gowns to the hospitals during the pandemic.
“Teammates from all different shifts just stopped without hesitation and they flowed like magic in this facility,” she said. “It was amazing to be able to see that, and they did phenomenal.”
The remarks were preceded by a tour of the 200,000-square-foot distribution facility at 7437 Industrial Boulevard, where 110 employees work.
The facility, which operates seven days a week, is one of more than 40 distribution centers Owens & Minor operates nationwide. Its network of 7 million square feet of warehousing space allows it to reach 90% of U.S. health care providers within four hours, according to its website.
The company has manufacturing facilities in Lexington, N.C., and Del Rio, Texas. The company has ramped up production amid the pandemic.
“I am pleased with the way that our teams performed in a very challenging environment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Edward A. Pesicka, president and CEO said during the May 6 earnings call. “I have seen our values play out in real life as our teams worked with customers, suppliers, and various agencies of state and federal governments to provide creative solutions to these challenges.
Owens & Minor traces its roots to 1882 when the Owens & Minor Drug Co. opened its first retail location, a retail storefront, in an iron-front building that still stands today in downtown Richmond. It since has diversified its business and grew into a Fortune 500 company, ranking No. 317.
The company’s warehouse in Upper Macungie Township is a strategic location for the distribution business. Lehigh Valley is valued as a central location between Philadelphia and New York City. It has easy access to those markets through interstates 78, 80 and 476, but lower costs than more metropolitan areas
Lehigh Valley is a hub for fulfillment and distribution centers for companies including FedEx, Amazon and Walmart, contributing to the region’s a large share of jobs deemed essential during the pandemic.
The region’s share of wholesale companies, such as Owens & Minor, are particularly essential. The Pennsylvania State Data Center says 71% of wholesale businesses in Lehigh Valley are essential, nearly 30% higher than the statewide average. In addition, 91% of the Valley’s wholesale workforce are deemed essential compared to 72.8% statewide.
A research report by Apartmentlist.com found that Lehigh Valley ranked in the top 10 among the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas for the percentage of workers in “exposed” occupations: those that are deemed essential but are least able to be done from home.
Workers in those occupations – including nurses, material handlers, manufacturing production workers, and truck drivers – make up nearly 40% of Lehigh Valley’s labor force.
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