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Northland Steps Up: Frost River Trading transforms into protective gear manufacturer

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DULUTH, MN -- Two weeks ago, Frost River Trading's owner talked about how he hoped to transform his Lincoln Park shop into a place that solely manufactures personal protective equipment for St. Luke's and Essentia.

That is now a reality.

Wednesday, Chris Benson and his employees switched gears completely, from making beautiful, intricate bags, to making crucial, life-saving equipment for healthcare workers.

It is a project that has Benson busier than ever.

"I'm exhausted. I really can't tell you what day it is," said Benson.

Benson has spent the last two weeks talking with lawmakers and hospitals, working on prototypes and finding materials needed to start making PPE.

A lot of work that finally paid off.

He and his team have started making 45,000 face shields, which act as an extra layer of protection for the people interacting with COVID-19 patients.

Those 45,000 shields will be delivered to Twin Ports hospitals in the next few days.

"Face shields are used all over the hospitals. You walk in the front door now and it's a PPE element all healthcare providers are using right now," said Benson.

It's a manufacturing process split into different sections of the Frost River building.

Upstairs, Frost River employees sew together the head straps with sewing machines.

Downstairs, the plastic masks are cut into carefully measured pieces by a pre-programmed machine.

Benson says the hospital need for these masks has been great.

"Absolutely, when can you get it to us? That's the response from them," said Benson.

But it is not just face shields being made there.

The store is getting specialty scrap plastic material from the hospitals, and turning it into something called a PAPR hood.

They cover the head and keep germs out through the flow of air positive pressure.

All this work, done to help our heath care workers in the Twin Ports, and maybe eventually beyond.

"We're gonna protect our own first, and depending on where we can get or find some sort of protection, that if we're able to keep making things and we can send them out outside the state, that's what I really want to do," said Benson.

Benson says Cirrus is also doing some manufacturing.

As for the material, much of it was ordered from Twin Cities companies, and Benson and the hospitals are working out payment together.

Those 45,000 shields will be delivered in the next couple daysm, and then they're ready to make another 45,000.

Benson says they will go as long as the gear is needed.

As for the store and its normal operations, they have halted production of their products.

The main floor is where online orders are assembled.

Right now customers can buy from their existing stock, since nothing new is being made.

Frost River has created a new website to take those orders.

Sales help pay the staff as they make PPE.

There is a link to that new website below.

Dan Wolfe

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