EDA issues RFI, seeking innovative ways to ensure all businesses have access to PPE

ROI-NJ An N95 mask.

Gov. Phil Murphy reminded business owners Monday that all employees who can work from you should still work from home — despite New Jersey entering stage 2 of its restart and recovery process.

They may not have had a choice.

Whether the state allows it or not, few companies are going to be able to bring back employees if they don’t have enough personal protective equipment available for them. The liability of doing so is too high-risk.

Here’s the problem: Finding PPE still is a nearly impossible task, especially for smaller companies.

Because of this the New Jersey Economic Development Authority announced Monday it is working with the Murphy administration, as well as labor and industry leaders, in an effort to find new and innovative perspectives on facilitating sufficient and affordable access to PPE.

The EDA issued a Request for Information on Monday to seek information, ideas and solutions on how to ensure the state’s small businesses and nonprofits have economical and equitable access to the appropriate personal protective equipment and safeguarding tools that they will need to reopen and operate safely.

In particular, the EDA is seeking guidance on how to accelerate market-based solutions to meet the need for PPE, including an understanding of the support necessary from the state government, or other interested parties such as corporations or philanthropies, that could best reinforce those efforts.

Entities that could respond to the RFI may include: PPE manufacturers and suppliers, technology companies, medical or office equipment retailers or wholesalers, existing or new buying cooperatives or consortia, nonprofit organizations, industry or trade groups, and postsecondary educational institutions. Respondents can offer ideas for full solutions for sourcing and distribution of PPE or could address one aspect of the need, such as technological solutions or small business insights.

Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the EDA, said the RFI includes a special concern that PPE be available to organizations run by and for women, minorities and people of color, veterans and other historically disadvantaged communities.

“Controlling the spread of COVID-19 is the only way to ensure a successful economic recovery, and easy access to PPE is crucial to ensuring businesses can operate while protecting employees and customers,” he said.

Sullivan, who serves as co-chair of Gov. Murphy’s Restart and Recovery Advisory Council, said the state is committed to ensuring that all small businesses and organizations, especially those owned by women, minorities and people of color, veterans and other vulnerable communities have equal access to the PPE they need to restart and grow in the new economic landscape COVID-19 has created.

Tony Coscia, a partner and executive committee member at Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf who serves as a co-chair of Murphy’s Restart and Recovery Commission Economics and Fiscal Policy Working Group, said finding PPE is one of the biggest the state faces.

“The issue of access to PPE must be addressed head-on to ensure a coordinated, transparent process for procurement and distribution of essential goods,” he said. “Seeking innovative ideas on how the state can support efficient, affordable, and equitable procurement and distribution of PPE products is a prudent and much-needed step in the process of reopening New Jersey’s economy.”

Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and also a co-chair, agreed.

“Safely reopening the economy and protecting workers and customers must take precedence over the speed at which we do so,” he said. “Jeopardizing the lives of hardworking Americans is not an option.”

Businesses that are able to produce or source larger-scale wholesale PPE orders are encouraged to visit the state’s PPE Supplier Registry. Wholesale vendors with PPE inventory such as surgical or other protective masks, hospital gowns, hand sanitizer or COVID-19 test kits can submit details on available supplies and hospitals, medical organizations and private businesses can purchase.

To date, more than 1,450 businesses have registered on the database, offering more than 3,800 products. The database is updated several times per week, and is easily filtered and sorted by product type, size, payment terms, location of supplier and several other criteria.

Suppliers who wish to be included in the registry should fill out the PPE Supplier Registry intake form.

All questions concerning the RFI must be submitted in writing no later than 11:59 p.m. June 23, by e-mail to: SmallBusinessPPE@njeda.com. Answers to questions submitted will be publicly posted on the EDA’s website on or about June 24.

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