Hodgeman County Economic Development recently announced it received a $21,000 grant from NetWork Kansas with funding provided by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. The grants were awarded to colleges and small businesses in Kansas that are making PPE for healthcare workers with low supply during the coronavirus outbreak.

When the stay-at-home order was issued, HCED Director Lea Ann E. Seiler picked up the 3-D printers from the Maker Space and began manufacturing face shields and mask extenders from her dining room table. The printers were small, but she set alarms and printed around the clock for a short while. They were distributed to the local hospital, clinic, EMS, pharmacy and other local businesses who expressed a need for them. She also provided them regionally to other businesses such as long-term care facilities.

“Like the rest of the world, I was feeling a little overwhelmed and wanted to help in any way I could. I was following a number of Makers and 3-D printers on Facebook that had started making PPE; I found a print file that was approved on the FDA website and fit our small printing platforms—and began printing. I started out with a more expensive method of cutting marine vinyl for the shield, but Mike McBeath (of Greensburg) shared a much better method of using pre-cut material and a hole-punch that made life so much easier. There are additional types of PPE that we are capable of manufacturing, but needed the equipment, which tends to be quite costly—so I made application for this grant. Hearing that we received it is beyond exciting!” said Seiler. “I’m still not sure it has completely sunk in. This is a great example of how Maker Spaces can be utilized in our communities. Normally people tend to think of them as a cool place for kids to learn hands-on technology—and businesses can use them for low-cost marketing and prototyping. But honestly, it’s a little mind-blowing to see how Makers across the globe were able to jump in and start providing much-needed supplies in such a short period of time. COVID has exposed some short-comings in our current supply-chain and I’m hopeful that projects like this will lessen our dependence on single vendors or single-sources, especially if they’re overseas. I really appreciate Network Kansas and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas for making these grants available, allowing us to build more reliable, sustainable manufacturing options right here in Kansas.”

NetWork Kansas is a nonprofit that works to grow small businesses in Kansas and foster an entrepreneurial spirit among Kansans. This is one of several initiatives that NetWork Kansas is involved with to help small businesses and communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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