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Pandemic thrusts Akron-based GOJO into spotlight

Maker of Purell faces huge demand, expansion
Posted at 6:18 PM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 18:51:54-04

AKRON, Ohio — GOJO industries has 75 years of history and health in Akron and that fills Marcella Kanfer Rolncik, the company's executive chair, with personal pride.

"We started with Goldie And Jerry Lippman, my great aunt, and uncle, in 1946 in Akron, Ohio solving important human problems getting dirty hands clean," Kanfer Rolnick said.

However, it's safe to say GOJO's first 73 years were nothing like the last two. The demand for the company's hand sanitizer and soaps exploded as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the world.

"We are a humble Akron company and the limelight is not a place that we had spent a lot of time— and frankly a place that we were all that comfortable— before the pandemic," said President and CEO Carey Jaros. "We're sort of people who do our jobs and not people who sort of seek out a lot of attention, so it was an adjustment."

Jaros, who took over at GOJO as the first female president in January 2020, faced immediate challenges as the pandemic raged.

The company moved to a 24/7 model for production.

"In March and April, when a lot of the world was still trying to figure out what was going on, we were ordering molds and production lines. We were out buying new facilities," Jaros said.

GOJO hired 500 new employees and manufacturing or distribution facilities were opened in Maple Heights, Navarre, and Ashland on top of existing operations in Cuyahoga Falls and Wooster.

"We invested more than every penny of excess profit from last year, from 2020, back into the business, so we spent about $400 million," Jaros said.

During the pandemic, GOJO has delivered 1.4 billion uses of Purell products throughout the world and increased production of hand sanitizer bottles by 300% compared to 2019.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said GOJO is important, not only for its 2,500 worldwide jobs and the income tax dollars it generates for the regions but also for its contributions to the community, especially during the pandemic.

"It's hard to make it in business for 75 years. Ask a business person and when you can do that in a very consistent way and grow and provide key things that community needs, I know they're proud to call Akron home and we're proud to have them here," Horrigan said.

As GOJO continues to make and distribute its products, the company also recently made a decision regarding vaccine requirements for employees.

"We actually just announced that we will have a vaccine requirement that will be in effect on December 8 (as part of) the national executive order," Jaros said.

Moving forward, GOJO leaders believe a silver lining to the pandemic will be an increased awareness of hand hygiene.

"This is a moment in time when the world has woken up to what we think about every day and we're really optimistic that good hygiene behaviors are going to persist," Kanfer Rolnick said.