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Surrey strikes COVID gold with home-grown PPE industry

Manufacturers ready to provide global supply of masks, wipes, sanitizer

When Surrey officials looked globally for pandemic personal protective equipment (PPE) only to find outfits like the CIA had taken it, they created an industry to meet the demand.

Now, Surrey businesses are supplying PPE, not only locally but globally, city economic development manager Stephen Wu said.

He told Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates Sept. 23 the city became aware of warehouses in China and Kenya with millions of SM N95 masks and attempted to get some.

But, he said, before they could finish the work, the U.S. spy agency and other organizations had cleared out those warehouses.

So, city staff put on their thinking caps and got to work, Wu said.
“We saw in COVID an opportunity to increase our business space,” Wu said.

What they found was that many local companies had the ability to produce PPE.

As of mid-September, he said, companies had produced more than $10 million worth of masks, gowns, sanitizer and other supplies.

Soon, there will be three companies making the N95 masks, he said. They could be producing a million masks a month.

He said 25 manufacturers are producing or are retooling to produce PPE. It’s an opportunity that has created 145 jobs with $5 million in private capital investment so far.

The economic output from just this one opportunity over the past four or five months has just been astronomical,” Wu said.

He spoke as part of a panel on which municipal economic development officers shared success stories and lessons learned  from the pandemic.

“Creativity is critical," Campbell River economic development officer Rose Klukas said.

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