N.C. businesses awarded $1.3 billion in federal COVID-19 contracts

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As restaurants closed their doors, hospital beds filled, and shortages of personal protective gear plagued almost every town, the U.S. government scrambled to find supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, more than three months later, the federal government has distributed $15.6 billion to thousands of companies across the country.

The COVID-19 contracts are aiding more than 100 U.S. agencies, including FEMA, the Air Force and the Census Bureau.

Though a large chunk of the demand is for medical supplies and equipment, businesses across the country are aiding with research, food distribution and IT needs.

As officials raced to meet increasing demands across industries, businesses who've never worked with the government before and companies who have never produced certain supplies before are now contracted for services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The ABC 11 I-team analyzed hundreds of U.S. contracts to uncover that North Carolina businesses received approximately 9 percent of overall funding, ranking the state second behind Virginia.

The $1.35 billion was distributed across more than 100 companies in the state, but not everywhere benefitted equally.



Gastonia and Winston-Salem businesses accounted for 85 percent of the $1.35 billion.

Those counties are home to the textile companies Parkdale Advanced Materials and Hanesbrand Inc, respectively.

Each company was awarded more than $500 million to assist with producing face masks, an amount that led to both ranking among the top 10 earners across the country. Neither company returned ABC11's request for a comment.

In central North Carolina, Morrisville, Durham and Raleigh businesses ranked among the top earners.



A majority of the contracts are for producing medical supplies and equipment, however the reasons for contracts included lab testing, food distribution and leasing of warehouses.

Jessica McNeill, the sales manager at Wards Produce in Raleigh, said the contract her business received was a life saver.

"This contract was amazing because we actually had enough work to bring all our workers back and hire a dozen new people," McNeill said.

Wards Produce usually distributes produce to schools, restaurants and country clubs.

After the pandemic hit, a lot of Wards' regular business vanished, forcing the wholesaler to adapt.

The Raleigh business applied for and was awarded a $2.8 million USDA contract in a matter of days.

"It was a whole new ball game for us. Now we're delivering to churches, nonprofits, places where they are doing distribution, so it is definitely different," McNeill explained.

Wards Produce is one of numerous companies participating in the federal Farmers to Families Program that aims to deliver fresh food to those in need.

During the last five weeks, the company has distributed more than 19,000 produce boxes across 45 North Carolina cities.



Similarly, multiple federal contracts have kept workers at IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem busy.

The shift to producing face masks was not a complete pivot for the company that regularly contracts with the U.S. government.

"For us, it was a pretty simple sew operation, so we actually had spun up a quick sewing line to produce 1,000 masks for our own employees when this crisis hit so we already had a little bit of a line set up when this opportunity to create masks for the Air Force came along," IFB Solutions COO Silas Martin said.

The company is also producing face masks for the public to support employment for individuals who are blind.



At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the funding is used for COVID-19 research. A spokesperson for the university said the money funded research into coronavirus that partly led to the approval of the medication remdesivir being approved as a COVID-19 treatment.

Multiple federal agencies contracted with companies. In North Carolina, FEMA, the Small Business Administration, the Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Small Business Association were the top contracting agencies.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.