FLORENCE — When the Kentucky Distillers' Association needed empty bottles to fill with hand sanitizer – as its members made a shift in an effort to help in the fight against COVID-19 – the group turned, in part, to a Northern Kentucky company for help.
Camco Chemical, a Florence-based contract manufacturer, typically keeps dozens of different size fluid containers in stock. It shipped out some extra so distillers could continue to get the antiseptic into the hands of EMS, police and more. As of the end of April, that donation has helped the companies fulfill nearly 125,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, the equivalent of 630,000 “fifths” of whiskey
It wasn't the first time Camco – and its more than 215 employees – had lent a helping hand during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The company, which blends, packages and warehouses products like hand cleaners, soaps and laundry detergent, also donated some of its stock of personal protective equipment, or PPE, to the Independence Fire District, specifically 125 Tyvek chemical suits, 140 N-95 masks and four gallons of disinfectant.
Adrian Hothem, Camco's president and CEO, said the fire department had a real need. The company also donated PPE to St. Elizabeth's and Kentucky HealthWarehouse, via the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
"We are a chemical manufacturer, [so] PPE is part of our daily process, but that was one of the things early on where we took some steps to make sure we were minimizing any waste," Hothem said. "That allowed us to recognize we had sufficient PPE to support our operations today and into the future. At that point it became a [question] of, 'Who else really needs it?' We all have neighbors and friends and family who are nurses and doctors and first responders, so if putting gloves hands in the hands of a paramedic helps them help 10, 20, 50 other people, it's well worth it."
While Camco has been serving "customers," like the ones above, a little closer to home, the company has also increased its operational capacity at its 650,000-square-foot facility, as demand has boomed for soaps, detergents, disinfectants, sanitizers and more. Camco, the largest manufacturer of its kind in the Greater Cincinnati area, has more than 60 customers and makes 3,000 different products for start-ups, market-leading brands and multi-national corporations alike.
While Hothem declined to name any of those customers specifically, it is common for large brands like Procter & Gamble, Lysol and Clorox to use a contract manufacturer like Camco to manage their supply chain.
"These are products and brands that we, as the general public, are interacting with directly or indirectly every day, whether that's in our homes, in hospitals, in businesses, in restaurants and schools and nursing homes," Hothem said.
Camco has had to stay light on its toes. Some existing customers have been negatively impacted by various stay-at-home orders, while others are seeing growth. There's a greater sense of urgency for critical products, and Camco is working with customers to make decisions fast in order to speed those products to market.
"Every drop of sanitizer or disinfectant at this point is like liquid gold," he said. "For a lot of customers, it's no longer [about] what looks pretty or what looks best on the store shelf. It's more about the functionality and getting it into the right hands."
Hothem is preparing for more ripple effects from COVID – at least from a manufacturing and business perspective – and said the impact could last well into next year. The supply chain, for one, is starting to get tighter. But once this passes, "everything else is going to feel a lot simpler," he said.
Hothem has worked at Camco for a number of years but was just appointed its president and CEO on Jan. 1. It's certainly been an interesting few months.
"It's about taking it day-by-day," Hothem said. "At the same time, it's really about having the right team; that's what's gotten us through this so far. Today's a good day. There's some new business. There's some new things to make. But we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. So it's really focusing on what we can control. This is our new normal," he said.