Monday, September 25Hampton Roads Weekly

A War With No Ammo…Amerishield PPE

For two decades now, America has joined the world in being dangerously dependent on China for their medical supplies. And for two decades now policy wonks have been warning of what this could mean for America’s national security and economic stability. We never took stock of their concerns because there was never a need to do so. But like everything in the last year, Coronavirus changed that.

China’s ruling political party, the CCP, has been on a not-so-secret campaign to drastically subsidize and impose wild-west type “regulations” on medical manufacturing, making their products uber cheap. This has pushed much of the global competition out of the way, leaving China as the primary manufacturer of key medical equipment.

During a global pandemic, this means massive shortages in personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as PPE, and fishy deals with Chinese warehouses that are demanding more money up front. Unfortunately, buyers are often left with broken equipment or worse – to find out that the company never existed. As China holds its hegemony on essentials such as masks, the rest of the world waits in line with their head down, as doctors and nurses back home are fighting “​A War With No Ammo​.”

Simply put, the virus exposed our vulnerabilities. This has drawn attention across the political spectrum, from Marco Rubio to Elizabeth Warren. President Trump’s economic adviser, Peter Navarro, said, while in the midst of the war, “Never again should we rely on the rest of the world for our essential medicines and countermeasures.”

 That’s where Vitali Servutas, of Virginia Beach, comes into the picture. The Lithuanian native and CEO of Amerishield told Hampton Roads Weekly, “There’s been much talk about making the change, ​but we are the ones actually making it happen.” Servatus has been an engineer for the past twelve years, but his work has not been on an air strip or a boatyard; instead it has been in developing better products for everyday needs. This innovative mindset became obvious as we sat among his modern office space. A fast-paced buzz electrified the air and hung from the walls with an array of products.

With a mission statement of “For America, By America,” Amerishield is making the change our politicians speak of: bringing medical manufacturing back to America, specifically to Virginia Beach. With a light chuckle, Servatus told me that when he went to apply for a manufacturing permit, the office was scrambling to find one on file because it had been so long since one was requested.

 As we continued to tour their office, I became increasingly glad that they found the permit. While shortages continue, Amerishield is ramped up to 1.1 million masks a day.  As of February 2021, they had made 100 million masks, 70 million of which were delivered to our US Government. This company was willing to increase their costs to bring the manufacturing back here, including buying many of the components of their mask from areas like Richmond and Chesapeake, when it could be easily purchased from China for less.

But what I missed was it’s not just about American jobs, it’s about quality. From their conference room we were shown the difference in material between a mask manufactured in China and what was made fifty feet away. The Chinese masks noticeably lacked the filtration to stop the spread of any virus. But as they pointed out, with little regulation, high subsidies, and a seeming monopoly on masks at the moment, manufacturing sites are able to get away with this inferior quality.

Servatus went on to tell us a little of his own story and how, in his past entrepreneurial ventures, he has been hurt by Chinese business. Time and time again he had a product of his copied, slightly changed, and sold for far less than its market value because China has no intellectual property protections. Or there were times that shipments of pre-purchased orders from Chinese manufacturing sites were never delivered.

All along the way Servatus was told to give up because of how hard it is to compete in a market already rigged against you, yet he continued to take it on. In hindsight it is clear that, in facing these struggles, he and all of Amerishield were prepared to assume the challenge that China still presents today.

Going forward, this hub of innovation plans to bring their product to college campuses, job sites, and other places of work to allow for a safer way to get our economy moving. They spoke to me of how they hope to continue this growth and production, with plans to donate more to hospitals, and to bring more jobs and manufacturing back to our community, one mask at a time.

Amerishield is doing great work on multiple fronts. Through establishing medical manufacturing in America, that could easily be swept away to China, they are helping protect our national security. In building better quality masks, they are prioritizing the health of each

person who wears them. By operating out of Virginia Beach, they are helping build a robust local economy.

As we said our goodbyes and began our exit, an executive we passed mentioned a phrase often repeated in their day by day tasks: “Innovate, Innovate, Make it Better.” These five words capture the fast-moving entrepreneurial spirit that gave us the notion of an American Dream. A dream that can seem fleeting in light of the threats we see today. Yet in what I saw and heard throughout our meeting I left with a faith in Amerishield, but most importantly I walked out with a faith in America.

By Caleb Knox