Chapter one: 'Helping people and keeping them safe'
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the state of Georgia reached out to business owners across the state asking for extra help with PPE production.
One of those businesses is in Fort Valley.
"Pre-COVID, I had a thriving advertising business in Atlanta. Everything was going well, I was bringing in money no problem," says Shaquez Wilkerson.
Wilkerson says 2020 started off strong, but a few months in, COVID-19 forced a pivot to something else -- producing and supplying PPE.
"Over the long run, I like the fact that I'm helping people and keeping them safe and I see a great industry to possibly build," he says.
Wilkerson's business, Cendient, sells masks, hand sanitizer, and nitrile gloves. The products are manufactured overseas, but orders come in through his website and he ships directly to customers' homes.
"We've received orders from as far as New York and Idaho, but a majority of our customers are from Georgia," says Wilkerson.
Wilkerson is just one of more than 330 business owners listed on the state's COVID-19 supplier map. There's a handful listed here in Central Georgia.
John Morehouse with the Georgia Department of Economic Development says companies stepped up when they were needed most.
"They started asking, 'How can we help?' 'We think we can make this,' 'How do we get plugged into the right people that can, A, help us make this, and B, get plugged into the buyers in the state?'" says Morehouse.
He says all the businesses listed on the website are Georgia-based and PPE production allowed manufacturers to keep their employees working and in some cases, increase their operations.
"Around the middle of the summer, we started hearing from a lot of manufacturers that they're actually hiring a lot of people to try to catch up on the back log for demand for their normal products," says Morehouse.
Morehouse says while some continue to produce masks and hand sanitizer on top of their normal products, others like Wilkerson say he'll continue with PPE production full-time.
He says he plans to take his business to the next level, bringing his manufacturing back to Georgia.
"It's all about finding the next opportunity, it's better to find an opportunity than to be another statistic," says Wilkerson.
Wilkerson says the next step is for him to find a site where he can produce PPE here in Central Georgia.
Besides Cendient, there are four other suppliers in Macon, including Healthy Place Botanicals, which makes hand sanitizer, and Choice Premiums, which makes face covers, sanitizing wipes, and more.
To access the full list of the COVID-19 Suppliers Map, you can visit the Georgia Department of Economic Development site.
The state says they will continue to accept applications to be listed on the supplier map, and it will be open until further notice.