Local workers will continue to produce ventilators inside the Kokomo General Motors Components Holdings plant after the company fulfills its order from the federal government to produce 30,000 of the machines.
GM and Ventec Life Systems has so far delivered more than 20,000 critical care ventilators to the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, after being awarded a $489.4 million contract in April by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The companies are on track to complete the order by the end of the month, but production of ventilators in Kokomo won’t stop after that.
GM said Tuesday it will hand off operational control to Ventec, which will continue manufacturing operations inside the local GM plant to fulfill ongoing orders for its VOCSN critical care ventilators.
Dan Flores, manager of GM corporate news relations, said the company will lease the space to Ventec so it can continue operations in the city. He said there are currently around 800 workers building ventilators at the facility.
But what the workforce will look like once the federal government contract is fulfilled remains a question mark.
Ventec said it is working quickly to fulfill ongoing orders for its ventilators, but operations at the Kokomo facility will be dynamic. The company will also continue producing the machines from its headquarters in Bothell, Washington.
Flores said any temporary workers hired by GM to build ventilators will have the opportunity to discuss continuing employment with Ventec after GM removes itself from operations. He said any salaried or hourly GM employee who volunteered to build ventilators will go back to working at GM.
Chris Brooks, Ventec’s chief strategy officer, said even after the federal government order is fulfilled, the demand for ventilators continues to grow as the pandemic drags on.
“The virus continues to spread,” he said. “The infection rates continue to go up. As more people become infected, until there is a cure or a vaccine, some of those people will get seriously ill and will ultimately need a ventilator. We can say that things haven’t slowed down. Demand is still very strong for ventilators.”
Brooks said once the government contract is fulfilled, ventilators made in Kokomo will be made for direct orders from state governments, hospitals, homecare companies and other entities.
Ventec and GM started meeting the spike in demand for ventilators after partnering in March and transforming a section of the Kokomo plant into a high-tech manufacturing facility.
The move to fire up mass production of the machines marked a lightning-fast turnaround for GM and the Kokomo facility. In less than a month, the company had transformed the factory, shipped in all the parts required to make the ventilators and implemented extensive health and safety protocols in the workplace.
Brooks said the partnership between Ventec and GM has been “wonderful,” and the company looks forward to continue producing ventilators in Kokomo once GM removes itself from operations.
“The community has been fantastic,” he said. “It truly has been an all-hands-on-deck community effort to keep production going strong in Kokomo. We really appreciate all the support the entire community has provided.”