Chesterville, Ont. mask company ready to grow, aims to bring manufacturing jobs back to town

A small eastern Ontario startup has been hard at work over the past year, making surgical masks during the pandemic.

Now, InCyT Resilience in Chesterville, Ont. says they are ready to meet the demand and bring back local manufacturing jobs.

"We realized we could get good people, good automation and compete with foreign providers," said Darrell O'Donnell.

O'Donnell started the company in 2020, knowing there was a lack of top quality mask manufacturing in Canada.

"We make what is called Astm level 3 masks and these are the ones you want to use in surgery, for dentist and frankly just for overall filtration, especially when facing something like COVID," O'Donnell says.

Renting a 10,000-square-foot room inside the former Nestle plant, they can make up to 75,000 masks a day.

"The good thing in this neighbourhood, we have people who know the factory, the manufacturing side, who have been looking for pretty awesome jobs," he said.

O'Donnell's background involves incident management, such as search and rescue and major crisis. He noticed Canada wasn't prepared when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

"How do we help Canada respond better before we get cut off like we were in March and April last year," he said.

Recently the company has scaled back production as they need to move product, trying to pressure governments to buy from them and to support local manufacturing jobs.

"We've got just over two million masks here, which for a mask supplier is not huge, but the government, when they go out for contract, looks for 100-million type of quantity," O'Donnell said.

"But we're working with lobbyists and the government is starting to recognize, it just moves slowly, to say we need some Canadian content here, we must have some capacity in Canada to meet our own need."

Operations supervisor Christine Martin says in a town like Chesterville, where good jobs have vanished, people are looking for work.

"We are trying to bring business back to the old Nestle plant that lost hundreds of jobs when it closed down," Martin said, "We'd really like to bring more jobs back to the community."

And she's heard that what they are producing is top quality.

"People really like our masks, we've had a lot of feedback that the breathability is a lot better than the offshore masks that they've been using currently," Martin said. "The other thing that people really like about our masks is the ear loops, the comfort behind your ear. People say that they don't hurt the back of their ear or create pressure, they can wear them all day, no issue."

"Definitely not the unrated dust masks," said O'Donnell. "They are definitely a lot higher quality, our customers once they get these, they throw out the other ones. It's kind of interesting, they stop using them."

The masks are for sale locally in pharmacies like Seaway Valley Pharmacy, Mike Dean Local Grocer in Chesterville, and in multiple Jean Coutu locations.

They are looking for large-scale clients, in the industrial or medical fields, to ramp up their business, and prove this type of manufacturing can be done once again in eastern Ontario and Canada.

"Businesses like Ross Video is one we've got, and a large number of pulp and paper mills are buying the masks as well," O'Donnell said, adding they offer free local delivery and only supply their masks within Canada.

A box of 50 sells for around $28.

The company says the goal is to have 50 to 75 people working at the Chesterville location in the future, and to expand, looking into making other PPE products as well.

"There was almost no capacity to make this kind of thing in Canada at all." O'Donnell said. "What we've kind of proved is it's totally feasible, it's commercially viable and we have room, we have plans to grow."

"We can meet and beat any foreign provider as long as the ground is fair," he said.

Orders can be placed on their website

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