Throughout the ongoing global battle against COVID-19, Kentucky’s health care technology, service and products manufacturing industry has consistently risen to the occasion, helping to curb the pandemic’s spread while spurring high-wage, impactful opportunities for thousands of Kentuckians.
“The innovative health care companies that call the commonwealth home are key partners on Team Kentucky. These companies are supplying nations across the world with the tools needed to beat this global pandemic, all while providing high-paying, rewarding careers for Kentuckians,” said Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. “Whether it’s supplying devices, services, medicines and therapies, producing PPE or providing medical equipment, Kentucky’s health care companies continue to improve global health as we build a better Kentucky.”
One rapidly growing Louisville company, for example, delivers life-preserving ventilators and other much-needed medical equipment around the world. Avante Health Solutions, a health care equipment supplier specializing in affordable new and professionally refurbished products, has undergone multiple expansions since 2015, including the addition of a new medical surgical division headquarters established last year. The company employs nearly 500 people nationally, with its Kentucky office comprising about a fifth of that workforce.
Considering Avante serves over 150 countries, the company’s mission became even more critical amid the pandemic. Two recent examples include the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, which received 12 ventilators from Avante — including one the company donated — and the Bahamas, which installed hospital beds from Avante specifically for patients suspected of having COVID-19 and displaying mild to moderate symptoms.
Avante is one of more than 200 health care-related technology, service and manufacturing operations in Kentucky, an industry employing 37,000-plus Kentucky residents full time. Those operations include tech startups, six headquarters of top health care companies, pharmaceutical, medical equipment and medical device manufacturers and a number of health care products distributors.
From 2014-2020, health care companies announced 113 new or expansion projects expected to generate about $726 million in investment and more than 7,200 new jobs.
Another Kentucky company, Lexington-based Summit Biosciences, attacks the pandemic from a pharmaceutical angle. Specializing in nasal spray medicines, Summit is expanding its operation at the University of Kentucky Coldstream Research Campus with a more than $19 million investment expected to create up to 78 full-time jobs. The expansion supports clinical and commercial production of several new nasal spray medicines, including a COVID-19 therapy.
In May 2020, Summit received a contract to accelerate development of a nasal spray medicine for preventing and/or mitigating a COVID-19 infection. The proposed product is being developed as an at-home, easy-to-administer preventative or treatment option for patients and is among a very limited number of medicines or vaccines that will rely on intranasal delivery.
Adapting to Challenge
The past year required adaptability to navigate the world’s unprecedented challenges, and Kentucky’s manufacturers rose to the occasion in a major way. More than 100 manufacturing facilities in Kentucky used their expertise to make personal protective equipment (PPE) which skyrocketed in demand because of the pandemic. These companies make barriers, masks, gowns, disinfectant, face shields, intubation boxes, ventilator components and, of course, hand sanitizer.
Many of those companies, like more than two dozen distilleries which pivoted to produce hand sanitizer, were new to the health care industry.
But the need for PPE also drove the creation of new jobs. A notable example is U.S. Medical Glove Co., a startup formed in October. In November, company leaders announced plans to create 192 full-time, high-tech jobs at a Paris, Kentucky, manufacturing facility to produce medical-grade gloves. They expect the company’s automated manufacturing operation to begin in the first half of 2021, with the production of more than 1 billion Liberty Gloves.
Not only does this expansion comprise a $32.5 million investment in Bourbon County, but it also will provide jobs for area veterans.
While the industry currently sits in the spotlight, Kentucky has long supported a diverse health care sector, one that’s well-positioned for future growth. For companies looking to grow, Kentucky boasts an available skilled workforce, a key geographic location for distributing products in the U.S. and globally, and a range of office, manufacturing and Build-Ready sites available on SelectKentucky.com.
Additionally, Louisville has the largest concentration of lifelong wellness and aging care companies in the nation. That attribute is particularly significant considering the U.S. Census Bureau projects the country’s senior population will increase by nearly 70% across the next 40 years, with the 65-and-older demographic expected to reach roughly 95 million by 2060.
Manufacturing and Logistics Stronghold
Kentucky also excels in medical equipment, supplies and pharmaceuticals manufacturing, which contribute over $530 million annually to the state’s economy. Kentucky’s manufacturing excellence complements a host of other business-friendly traits, said Jeff Taylor, commissioner of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s department for business development.
“Kentucky’s manufacturing prowess, logistics leadership and strong R&D capabilities through its robust university systems are a few of the unique assets that make it an ideal spot for health care companies,” Taylor said. “This industry presents a wealth of economic opportunity, and we are leveraging our commonwealth’s advantages to support its continued growth.”
The state’s unparalleled logistics capabilities, as Taylor mentioned, pose enormous distribution advantages for businesses.
Kentucky’s top-notch transportation infrastructure and its status as the only U.S. state with three major air cargo shipping hubs — operated by UPS, DHL and Amazon — enables businesses in the commonwealth to quickly and efficiently ship products across the country and around the globe. For companies dealing with products that save lives, that capability is essential.
Additionally, a strong educational infrastructure helps underpin the state’s health care manufacturing industry. Kentucky’s eight public universities all offer four-year degrees in chemistry and other sciences, while several offer advanced degrees in medicine, pharmaceutical sciences and biomedical engineering.
These educational partners, along with several private universities and the state’s robust community and technical colleges system, help Kentucky to build diverse talent pipelines of highly skilled workers for health care-related companies of all types and sizes.