Podcast: A Mask for Every Utahn

Pete CodellaBusiness Elevated Podcast, COVID-19


Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 30)

This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Ben Hart, deputy director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and Todd Bingham, president and CEO of the Utah Manufacturers Association.

The Business Elevated podcast is also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Stitcher.



Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Todd Bingham
Ben Hart


Ben Hart: (00:20) Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast. I’m Ben Hart, deputy director at GOED. My guest today is Todd Bingham, president and CEO of the Utah Manufacturers Association. Todd, how are you?

Todd Bingham: (00:33) I’m great, Ben. Thanks for having me on.

Ben Hart: (00:35) Todd, I know a lot about you. You’ve been one of the great movers and shakers in our communities for a lot of years now.

You’ve been in several different organizations, several positions. You’ve been involved in a lot of these projects. For our listeners who may not know a lot about you, just tell us a little bit about yourself, some of the things you’re involved with and a little bit about the UMA.

Todd Bingham: (00:56) I grew up in the manufacturing association business, and I’ve worked in the association industry for many years then with the manufacturing association for about eight years now. Prior to that, I ran the mining association  in the state of Utah and lobbied for the agriculture industry prior to that.

The Utah Manufacturers Association is a 115 year old organization whose sole purpose is to represent the manufacturing companies in the state of Utah and help them have an environment that is conducive to business growth. Certainly that’s where we’ve spent a lot of time working with GOED and the governor’s office over the years to try and help them improve and continue to drive the economy in Utah.

Ben Hart: (01:39) Manufacturing really is the heart of the Utah economy in so many ways. I think a lot of people feel like we have outsourced manufacturing, which we want to talk a little bit about in these important times, but manufacturing is alive and well here in Utah. Tell us a little bit about, you know, some of your member companies and your economic impact on the state.

Todd Bingham: (02:00) I think you’re right. There have been a lot of folks that tend to think that we’ve offshored most of our manufacturing and that really couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve done a lot of re-shoring over the last decade. Manufacturing in the state of Utah’s a $20 billion a year industry. It’s an extremely diverse manufacturing industry. We represent companies across the state that are in the aerospace industry, that are in the composite industry, the medical device and biotechnical  industry. Food manufacturers to outdoor consumer products  Pretty much anything that you can imagine that you’re using in your daily life that has been manufactured we’re doing in the state of Utah. It drives the economy.

Ben Hart: (02:50) Todd, we’re going to talk about this a little bit more, over the length of this podcast, but some of the things we wanted to talk about in particular as we think about what it means to be having a lot of the goods and services come from China. We’ve been seeing related to this COVID-19 response, and we start to recognize that a lot of this can be built in the United States.

Talk to us a little bit about some of the repatriation that’s going on. We would love to get your take on the future of manufacturing particularly if this pandemic has impacted us.

Todd Bingham: (03:23) I think as you indicated just a few minutes ago, there’s a lot of feeling across the country that the majority of our products are being manufactured overseas. Certainly the manufacturing industry today is a global industry. Many component pieces and parts start all over the world and then come in and we manufacture those things here in the United States. Certainly, over the last number of years, as I indicated, and specifically recently with the pandemic, there’s been a lot of focus on made in the USA and Utah. That’s a good thing.

That drives the economy. It produces more jobs, high paying jobs here in the United States and in Utah. We need to do more of that. Certainly as challenges come about with supply chain and the ability to, to connect manufacturers together, to be able to complete a finished product.

If you have gaps in that supply chain, then you run into problems being able to finish those goods and products. Certainly it’s been elevated during this pandemic where we have companies around the world that have been shut down during one period or another. They are a vital part of the economy and the supply chain.

Being able to have that supply chain closer to home can help us long-term avoid those supply chain hiccups.

Ben Hart: (04:40) Thank you, Todd. That is tremendous. I love your passion and your enthusiasm for manufacturing. I think there’s a lot of parents out there when they think of manufacturing, they are dark, dirty and dangerous. When you see manufacturing in the state of Utah it’s a long-term career. We need more of our kids thinking about manufacturing. We need more of our kids thinking about the workforce in some of these career opportunities that exist in manufacturing today.

Todd Bingham: (05:09) I think there are a lot of unknowns about manufacturing. It’s  not a lot of times as visible as other industries. Folks sometimes just don’t know what Let me just give you a few statistics that I think are helpful when it comes to manufacturing.

In the state, the average manufacturing wage is just shy of $70,000. That’s about 35% higher than the median wage in Utah. Certainly they are living wage jobs. They’re high paying jobs. Many of those jobs require postsecondary education. A large portion of them actually don’t require a four-year degree.

They require a two-year certificate or additional training after high school. Those are tremendous jobs that have a wage that is very, very, very good. There are jobs that I think a lot of folks don’t understand what they are. They might be participating in working for a company, who’s building outdoor products.

Whether you’re building a kayak, work for a food manufacturer or you’re building audio electric equipment, these are high skilled jobs that require a significant amount of training. They are in need. We have a huge shortage of workers in the state of Utah for manufacturing. Somewhere in the range of 6,000 prior to the pandemic.

We’ll need more and more of those workers as manufacturing continues to grow.

Ben Hart: (06:40) Todd, let’s talk about that a little bit. The Utah Manufacturers Association is always willing to step up. We know the manufacturers in the state are always willing to go above and beyond and throughout this pandemic. We’ve seen the world change in shift just a little bit. We wanted to talk a little bit about some of the incredible things that you and the manufacturers in the state are working on.

Specifically, a project that we kind of been and you’ve been running point on this. Some of these manufacturers who are now helping to create masks for every Utahn. Tell us a little bit about your involvement and how you brought everyone together on this. It really is an incredible project.

Todd Bingham: (07:22) I think you’re referring to this as the Mask Utah project. We’re pleased, as a 115 year old organization, to be a part of it. As the pandemic hit, there’ve been a significant number of companies that weren’t exactly sure what they were going to be doing over the next few months.

As their facilities were shut down for safety reasons, many of them switched to participate in these types of things. They started looking at PPE or personal protective equipment. When you reached out to us and asked us to help this on this project we went to work and reached out to a bunch of our companies and said this is what the state wants to do. Who has the capabilities, the processes, the equipment and the manpower to help us produce a large number of face masks across the state. That’s what we did. We’re partnering with around 15 companies in the state. They originally produced everything from the quilts to mattresses to pillows to letterman jackets.Pretty much any company that had the equipment are now manufacturing masks to help the public stay safe as they’re out and about.

Ben Hart: (08:46) That’s awesome. All of these companies in different times would have been doing something very different. Now they’re coming together. They’re re-purposing, they’re finding the right fabric.Finding the right procedures, getting things ready and in place.

Now they’re getting ready to produce masks for every citizen at a very high level. It’s not just one and two. This is a lot of masks that you guys are producing.

Todd Bingham: (09:10) I think it really talks to and demonstrates the nimbleness of manufacturers. If you’ve got a company that  yesterday was working to produce a letterman jacket, or was producing beds and mattresses and has the equipment. We’ve never made masks, but if you’ll give us the diagrams and show us what you want produced we can do that.

Kudos to those companies for being so versatile, and innovative and looking at a challenge and asking how they can help. Certainly there are hundreds of companies, if not thousands across the state that are doing these types of things to help with PPE, whether face masks or face shields.

The barriers between consumers and employees and retail areas where our companies shifted and moved and answered the call. We’re just pleased to be a part of that.

Ben Hart: (10:12) Iit really is impressive. When you think about the caliber of these companies that you have working on this is really impressive. The stories and partnership between the state of Utah and UMA really comes together well. We hope these manufacturers are able to stay in business.

You’ve kind of alluded to a few of these manufacturers throughout the state. We hope this partnership is helping to save jobs. Any feel for, if you can’t mention them by name we totally understand, the manufacturers who may be participating, and some of the stories you’ve heard as you’ve watched them repurpose their goods.

Todd Bingham: (10:54) Absolutely. We’ve got a number of companies that are doing this and as you indicated. I almost hesitate to mention who some of them are because I am sure I’ll miss them. We’ve got companies like Autoliv that had been participating with vehicle manufacturers around the country who have now switched to produce PPE.

They’re manufacturing gowns and they’re a big player in our masks project companies. L3Harris who’s producing ventilator manufacturing. ACT, a composite company, that’s doing the same thing and working in ventilators. OC Tanner has switched over their operations from being a jewelry manufacturer and they are producing face shields. There is a machining company up north, Leanworks and JD Machine, that are producing the plexiglass barriers between you and the customer.

I think what’s important, Ben, and what we’re so excited about is this is an opportunity to do a couple things. One is to work with your office, and the governor’s office, on the Utah Leads Together plan and how we address economic recovery by doing a couple of things.

One is manufacturing a product that helps the public stay safe and helps us flatten the curve. With COVID-19, how do we help these companies that are our major employers and contributors to the economy in the state weather this storm and get through this? How do we come back stronger and bring employees back to work into a scenario where they’re doing what they previously did?

And in the meantime, help us get through the pandemic. It’s about job creation and keeping everybody safe.

Ben Hart: (12:49) Todd, I got to say, one of the things that I was really impressed with is you’re getting really good quality products. This is not something that you would go to the store that’s been produced who knows where and with who knows what. You feel really comfortable you’re helping keep Utahns in work. We reviewed the different masks and we had a chance to kind of see the difference.

Skews and the different designs and everything that was out there. It was cool to see how quality these masks actually are. The manufacturers who are working on this have really built a tremendous product. These are high quality and definitely something that will serve citizens of the state for years to come as they have to deal with this and potentially future pandemics. These are literally going to help save lives. Talk about that just a little bit. The quality of what you get when we buy here locally.

Todd Bingham: (13:49) To your point, the state wanted to purchase these locally and help steer the economy and put people to work. One of the things that we know about Utahns is that we’re very resourceful. We have a very diverse manufacturing  economy.  When we started looking at this we knew we could find companies that could produce a very high quality product. If you’re talking about a company like Coleman Knitting that normally makes letterman jackets, sewing a face mask is not terribly difficult. You’re seeing a high quality. Whether you’re dealing with an awning company, like SugarHouse Awning, or Autoliv that is used to using their technical and cutting and sewing facilities to produce seat belts and airbags.

Taking that technical expertise of those individuals and then rolling it into producing a high-quality product at a good price. Knowing that it came from the state of Utah and that dollar impact is getting to those companies across rural Utah. It is helping put those individuals back to work and that money is ending up in small communities. That’s what’s really been fun to watch as these companies responded. They’ve done an amazing job. Kudos to them. These companies put out the call and said the governor wants to do this. We need you guys to step up and help us. It’s been overwhelming.

Ben Hart: (15:29) We appreciate that. From our standpoint at the state of Utah, it was really exciting to be able to place that call and know we had the whole manufacturing system kind of throughout the state that was involved. We wanted to do this because we recognize the importance of limiting transmission, long-term, with protective equipment.

Particularly in populations where they can’t afford it and can’t find it. We felt like this was critical. Working with the governor’s office of management and budget, and other organizations and agencies, we recognize this would be a really good thing to provide for as many of the citizens of the state of Utah as is possible.

That’s why we are very excited to be involved. We saw some money that came in through the CARES Act. I  helped to fund this project on our side. We felt like this was a marriage that just kind of had the stars aligning in a really, really perfect way right now.

Todd, some of the stories that you told me about, making sure that you were limiting transmission and making sure that you were getting the right design. Talk a little bit about what you guys went through and how you came up with some of the designs. Also, talk a little bit about what you guys do with process improvement and helping manufacturers become better.

Todd Bingham: (16:56) As an organization, we have a center that’s our center for business and continuous new improvements. It’s designed to help companies become more effective and more productive in their manufacturing operations. We have a couple of manufacturing engineers that are on our staff that their job is to go into a manufacturing operation and give them a second set of eyes to go through the facility. You’ve got some waste here, or this process doesn’t necessarily work the best that it could. How do we help you become more efficient?  For most of the listeners that aren’t familiar with that, it’s kind of the Henry Ford model when they went to the manufacturing line over years. It was perfected by Toyota where they looked at this process and if it produced value. If it doesn’t improve productivity, then we’re going to get rid of it. That’s the model that manufacturing uses. 

When we went through this process of manufacturing the masks we kind of went backwards. We said, okay, what are the center for disease control guidelines on a mask? What is it that they’re recommending? Then we did some testing to determine the best mechanism and best design for that mask. We went through literally about a hundred designs of the mask. We had about 30 companies in the state submit their masks design to us. We went through a process where we evaluated it and determined what was the best mask design that met the CDC guidelines that would help us protect the public. In doing that, we were able to come up with a couple of designs that we put out to the companies and asked them to produce it. This is done by two members of my team that have spent time in major manufacturing operations. It was a good fit for us to be able to do that. We’re in production now and getting those masks out really quickly.

Ben Hart: (18:53)  We love that. We love making manufacturers find better processes. From our standpoint, the mask project was really important because I think there were a lot of people who would say, do we have enough personal protective equipment, PPE, as we’ve been calling it affectionately in our hospitals. We do. The state of Utah has been very fortunate in that we’ve been able to get the right PPE. Our hope is that through this project, we have a lot of people that won’t ever get to the hospital. We hope that this really significantly cuts transmission. That there’s less people who get sick who get this. We hope there’s less people who get this virus. From our standpoint transmission is really critical.

Todd, you told me a great story about blowing through masks. Talking with experts, making sure that you got the absolute right design. Cutting transmission. You have really shown that you’re not just protecting yourself as you wear a mask, but you’re protecting others. If you carry this asymptomatically, you will significantly cut the transmission of this virus. 

You guys did an amazing job bringing this all together. Not only working with the manufacturers, but getting the right design from the state’s perspective. We could just not have had a better partner in all of this, I know you’ve been leading that effort which has just been tremendous.

Any final thoughts for those listening about this project? What does it mean not only for manufacturers, but for the state? It really is bringing everyone together to find the right solutions.

Todd Bingham: (20:33) You know, Ben, we’ve been very happy to participate in this. It’s been an awesome project. We’ve learned a lot ourselves. We’ve learned a lot about the manufacturers in the state and how versatile they are. We are here and we’ll help get it done. Kudos to the state for looking and taking on this mask project. Let’s produce as many of these as we can.

As we start to come into the kind of the second phase of this pandemic, our recovery phase, as we start to have a lot more public out and about mingling in stores and restaurants controlling the transmission of the disease is going to be key. Producing these masks is going to be important. One of the things we’ve just recently heard, through some surveys that have been done, is the vast majority of businesses out there are not sure how they’re going to be able to meet their needs for PPE moving forward as the public starts to get back out in the workplace.

We want to be able to do what we can as an industry to make few people feel comfortable. Make people feel safe as they go back out into the economy and continue to work. The mask project that you guys are doing is one of those things. We’ve also been working with a lot of our other manufacturers to be able to distribute these masks to a wide variety of companies across the state. Provide masks for their workers and provide a safe, and a sanitized environment. We’ll continue to work with those companies, as well as with the state, cities and counties. We’re here if you need our help, just holler.

Ben Hart: (22:30) Thank you, Todd. It really has been a great project. This has been an amazing one to work on. I think there’s a lot of people throughout the state who don’t know where and how to get a mask. It’s really interesting. I keep coming back to this kind of common problem that we’re facing, which is we haven’t produced a lot of this stuff here in the United States for a long time and so our manufacturers start thinking about repatriating projects and different supply lines and manufacturing processes. This is a great first step for the state, the Utah Manufacturers Association, and the manufacturers involved. They’ve just been tremendous, responsive and agile. Everything that you talked about, Todd. We hope this is a great success and people are able to get their hands on these masks as we reopen the economy and get back to a new sense of normal. I think we’re all excited to see what that is and, and these masks will undoubtedly help us create that new normal.

Todd, thank you for spending a few minutes with us today, and thank you for all that you do for the state of Utah.

Todd Bingham: (23:47) Thank you. It’s been a privilege, Ben. We look forward to seeing everybody out and about with a mask on in the next, next little bit.


Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.