“Business” and “community” may sound like two separate entities, but not here in Henrico. When the novel coronavirus began to surge and the reality of living in a persistent pandemic hit, local business leaders rallied to do what they do best: face up to obstacles with the type of relentless determination that cultivates success. Here are just a few companies that have gone out of their way – and some outside of their business model – to lend a hand to our neighbors in need.
GENETWORx Laboratories Supercharges COVID-19 Testing
William Miller, CEO and Founder of GENETWORx, launched his business in 2013. He set out to improve pharmacological testing, but through the years gravitated toward clinical laboratory and toxicology work in the area of women’s health. Four years after its launch, he sold the company to Recovery Centers of America. Miller felt the partnership aligned with his beliefs in the importance of creating a patient-centered business that worked to make a difference and save lives.
In March, he put that belief system into action when he made the move to switch focus and produce rapid COVID-19 tests at his Henrico facility. Weeks earlier, when the CDC began testing, Miler suspected that COVID-19 was going to be far more serious than most projections, so he went to his parent company and made his case that testing was something they needed to help with.
Recovery Centers of America agreed, GENETWORx began the transition in early March, and by the 23rd of that month, the company was manufacturing and distributing COVID-19 tests. Miller originally set a goal of sending out 150,000 tests for the month of April, but that mark was surpassed by more than 50,000. The company’s tests are 99% accurate and provide results within one business day.
In addition to supplying tests to Henrico, GENETWORx is collaborating with nearby Hanover County and other states. Miller has had to hire more than 120 employees over the past few weeks, and he praises Henrico for its tech pipeline, remarking that it’s been simple to recruit new staff and attract top talent in our area. He’s thrilled to give back to the community that has given him so much.
When asked what motivates him, Miller says, “We live here. My kids go to Deep Run High School. We’re trying to get America back to work, and we want to help in any way we can.”
PPD Applies Expertise to Help Develop COVID-19 Vaccines, Treatments
PPD is a leading global contract research organization based in Wilmington, North Carolina. The company has offices, clinics, and labs around the world. From its 250,000 square feet of laboratory and office space in Henrico, PPD employs more than 1,000 people, including Ph.D.-level scientists, analytical laboratory staff, and other scientific professionals.
The Henrico EDA has had the pleasure of assisting the company with several expansions, the latest of which took place in September 2019, when PPD announced it was investing $63.7 million in our area to expand its local bioanalytical lab and, with the expansion, bringing an additional 200 jobs to the area.
In response to COVID-19, the company has been directing its laboratory and drug development expertise to collaborative efforts with pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and government organizations around the world to help generate vaccines and treatments for the virus.
“PPD’s mission is to help biopharmaceutical customers deliver life-changing therapies, which currently include a broad range of vaccine and drug trials related to COVID-19,” explains Christopher Fikry, M.D., Executive Vice President of PPD® Laboratories. “We do that by conducting a broad range of clinical trials that generate data that is ultimately used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory authorities around the world to evaluate new medicines and vaccines, such as those that already are underway to address the coronavirus pandemic.”
U-Fab Fashions Masks for Responders on the Front Line
U-Fab is a local interior design company that offers award-winning services and products – from custom furniture to reupholstery, window treatments, custom headboards and more. Travis Hamilton, U-Fab President and CEO, started the company in the Richmond area with a business partner almost 12 years ago, but eventually bought out his partner and landed in Henrico.
He was immediately attracted to the building at 7921 West Broad Street because of the location. What’s more, because of the facility’s expansiveness, the move solved for a host of inefficiencies that had been caused by operating out of several buildings. He loves that sales, inventory, and production are now housed in the same facility. Plus, he says he enjoys working with Henrico and appreciates the fact the county has always gone above and beyond to help him.
In early March, Hamilton also sensed that COVID-19 was going to be more challenging to the community than we initially thought. He made the decision to shut down U-Fab on March 13. By April, the severity of the pandemic was resonating, and he had the idea that his team members could help out by making masks during the company’s downtime. Little did he know that it would soon consume his entire business.
It was around that time that a VCU Health contact reached out to say that they were in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE) and asked if U-Fab could assist them in filling the gap. Hamliton determined that if his company invested all its resources, it could supply the medical facility with 1,000 masks per day.
It helped that everything was operationally in place for production. But what Hamilton really needed to address was the fact that every staff member would need to buy into the cause 100%. He found that it didn’t take much coaxing. Everyone brought in a sewing machine and, for weeks on end, came in early and stayed late. The result? Every mask U-Fab makes is fully handmade, and as of now, they’re creating close to 2,000 face coverings per day.
When Henrico reached out to see if U-Fab could help the county’s first responders with masks, workers did not hesitate to chip in and supply nearly 1,000. As Hamilton begins the process of reopening the interior design segment of his business, he says they’re going to continue making masks.
When asked what he wanted everyone to know about U-Fab as it begins to reopen and help move Virginia forward, Hamilton replied, “We want our community to know that we’re open for business. We’re here. And we’re here for them.”
A Community United
GENETWORx, PPD, and U-Fab are not alone. Several other Henrico companies have pitched in to lend a hand with sourcing PPE. Jensen Leisure Furniture, an award-winning manufacturer of luxury FSC-certified patio and garden furniture, donated 600 handmade masks to Henrico first responders. SolarMill, a Henrico solar power manufacturer, joined a collective of non-profits to make face shields for babies in honor of the #RVAPROJECTSHIELD campaign.
In these extraordinary times, Henrico businesses are taking extraordinary measures to help the community. As we continue the journey of reopening, we are all heavily relying on the spirit of the community to carry us through. Challenging days have passed, and there will be challenging days ahead, but Henrico will become stronger along the way. Together.