NEWPORT — An effort eight months ago to supply needed protective hospital gear amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic has given a small but growing local company a new manufacturing home, a tripling in employees and recognition from Sullivan County officials.
On Monday, the Sullivan County Board of Commissioners presented the 2020 Outstanding Community Partner Award to Cole-TAC, a firearms and outdoor accessories manufacturer Newport that turned its attention in March to making medical gowns and face masks as the novel coronavirus took hold in the region.
Prior to the pandemic, company owners Dustin and Liene Coleman ran Cole-TAC from a small shop in Unity with about five or six employees. The Colemans began Cole-TAC five years ago in their garage as “a part-time” hobby, according to a Sullivan County press release.
“We focus on smaller niche markets that the larger manufacturers don’t focus on and we can specialize in,” Dustin Coleman told the Eagle Times.
Cole-TAC’s product line includes canvas and support bags, competitive long-range gear and the company’s biggest selling items, suppressor covers.
“It seems weird to think that we can stay that busy making suppressor covers, but we do,” Coleman said.
In March, when supply shortages had Sullivan County officials struggling to allocate personal protective equipment (PPE), Cole-TAC offered to start manufacturing gowns and masks for the nursing staff at Sullivan County Health Care.
“Dustin and Liene bailed us out when our backs were up against the wall,” said Sullivan County Commissioner Chair Jeff Barrette. “The thought of facing COVID without the ability to provide PPE to our staff was unpleasant to say the least. National supply chains were completely overwhelmed. And then, right in our backyard, we suddenly have a reliable source for gowns? It was too good to be true.”
“They were the right people at the right time to present us the necessary masks and gowns we needed,” said Ted Purdy, Sullivan County health care administrator. “It’s great that we have resources like them that we can partner with.”
Needing a larger space to make gowns, the Colemans leased 20 N. Main St. in Newport, a former grocery store space. Initially the Colemans had planned to only lease the Newport space for three months and return to Unity once the PPE was made. But as demand grew for their Cole-TAC products, the Colemans stayed in Newport and retained the additional employees they hired temporarily to make gowns and masks.
“Before COVID we had five or six employees,” Coleman said. “We’re at employee number 17 now.”
As a small company Cole-TAC was able to start producing PPE in a way that larger companies could not due to their more cumbersome organizational processes, Coleman said.
“With the gowns it was literally a weekend,” he said. “On a Friday afternoon we decided to do it and by Monday we were processing.”
This quick transition included designing patterns and processes and acquiring new machines and specialized materials for the gowns that would meet federal guidelines for health and safety.
“We had to learn as we went,” Coleman said. “We knew there was a need right then and we couldn’t delay.”
By July, as the larger manufacturers became able to meet the PPE demands, Cole-TAC had produced about 5,000 masks and over 60,000 hospital gowns.
“We wanted to help our community but also our employees,” Coleman said. “It was before we knew who were considered essential employees and who weren’t, so keeping our employees employed was a critical step.”
Cole-TAC is the third organization to receive the county’s Community Partnership Award, which is now in its third year. Rugers in Newport received the inaugural award in 2018 and the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont received the award in 2019.
County employees recognized
Sullivan County officials also announced awards and recognition to several county employees for their years of service to the community.
Melissa Dube of the county Health Activities Department received the distinction of being the longest tenured employee with 48 years of service.
The county also recognized 37 employees for their employment anniversaries, with milestones ranging from five to over 30 years in the county.