A federal watchdog agency warned last year that American companies that had received $10 billion to quickly expand production of gloves, masks, and gowns would suffer without guarantees their products would be purchased domestically over cheaper imports from Asia. 

That warning proved true in Colebrook. 

American Performance Polymers, which received $35 million to ramp up production of medical gloves, laid off most of its 180 employees late last month. Chief Executive Officer Rich Renehan said his inability to compete with lower-priced imports drastically hurt sales.

“I’m blessed with the opportunity to represent the United States as a recipient of Defense Production Act funding. But now we have to make it work,” Renehan said. “It takes additional funding, which we expected…in the form of sales. We didn’t get any sales because we are seeing a massive amount of gloves shipped into the USA from Asian factories.”

Renehan said a box of 100 gloves imported from overseas sells for $2, where a box of American-made gloves cost $8 to $10 because labor costs here are higher. 

He could have avoided laying off his workers, he said, had the $35 million come with long-term contracts committing the government to buying his gloves. 

The Government Accountability Office reported that same concern in a July 2021 report. Manufacturers, trade organizations, and distributors said contracts should be at least three years; some said they should be even longer at 8 to 10 years.