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With government guidelines recommending people use protective face masks and practice safe social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Company has turned to local businesses to supply its needs and protect public health while also helping support the economy.

Southern Company’s partnership with HomTex, a family-owned textile company in Cullman, is one recent example. Alabama Power is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern.

Founded in 1987, HomTex has transitioned from producing bedding and home products to manufacturing up to 300,000 masks per week. That number is expected to continue to ramp up as the company becomes more familiar with the process.

The shift to mask production has allowed HomTex to keep all 150 of its employees working, with an expansion in the works.

“When this opportunity presented itself, a lot of people in the textile industry looked to HomTex to lead,” said Maury Lyon, HomTex vice president of apparel. “It has been a tremendous blessing to provide a high-quality and filtered product that hopefully is helping keep people safe. It is also unique that we could provide a U.S.-made product that we could put into our communities.”

So far, Southern Company has ordered over 1.5 million dust masks from HomTex, along with 500,000 cloth masks. The masks are shipped to Alabama Power’s Materials Distribution Center before being sent all across Southern Company’s footprint.

“Southern Company is committed to helping our communities thrive no matter the time or circumstances,” said Jeff Franklin, Southern Company senior vice president of supply chain management. “HomTex is doing critical and tremendous work for our community and we are thrilled to partner with them. Southern Company will continue to do our part to keep our communities healthy during the national response to COVID-19.”

Last week, Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth visited the HomTex facility in Cullman. He is working alongside the company to help it receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its masks. Lyon said the company expects FDA approval within the next week.

FDA approval is only needed for masks used in medical settings. It isn’t required for facial coverings recommended for most workers and for members of the public when social distancing can’t be effectively maintained.

Last month, HomTex announced a $5 million project that is expected to create an additional 120 jobs in Cullman and position HomTex as a permanent U.S. producer of personal protective equipment at a time when domestic production of the gear is considered a national security priority.

According to a story posted on the state Department of Commerce website Made in Alabama and reported by Alabama NewsCenter, the company secured a $1.5 million loan from the Cullman County Economic Development Agency to cover the down payment on the equipment. It has worked with the commerce department and others on incentives to accelerate the project.

In addition to its headquarters and plant in Cullman, HomTex has a distribution center in Vinemont and manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“Nothing moves this fast in the textile industry, and the fact we were able to do this over the course of days is amazing,” said Jerry Wootten, HomTex CEO. “We really just wanted to help our community and find a way to serve them first.

“It is unique that we could use our skills to help the community this quickly. It has been a blessing to supply these needs,” Wootten said.

This content was originally published here.