When U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, toured the Sarasota headquarters of the largest U.S. manufacturer of bandages, the focus was on creating even more jobs.
The March 14 event celebrated 87 jobs that have been created at ASO LLC since 2011, when the company's partnership with Wal-Mart began.
ASO has been headquartered in Sarasota since 1988, when it opened with 10 employees. Now, 28 years later, the company has 350 employees in the Sarasota area.
ASO has 90% of the private label first-aid market. It also supplies bandages and other products to retailers such as CVS, Target and Walgreens.
In 2013, Wal-Mart announced it would “boost job creation and U.S. manufacturing through buying an additional $250 billion in products that support American jobs over 10 years,” says Wal-Mart spokesman Scott Markley.
The commitment to U.S. manufacturing at their Sarasota headquarters sets them apart from other brands that manufacture bandages in countries like Egypt, China, Brazil and Korea. The company also buys raw materials in the U.S. That includes some Florida suppliers — printed tape from Tampa, cartons from Miami and displays from Clearwater.
Buchanan's ASO visit included a presentation about the company and a tour of ASO's factory. During the presentation, Buchanan asked ASO executives how they compete with overseas labor markets. Charles Hart, ASO's vice president of sales and marketing, says the company focuses on automation and vertical integration. He says one of ASO's strategies is to move the “innovation bus” so fast that competitors can't keep up.
Buchanan echoed the importance of automation. “Automation, I think, is the way we can compete worldwide,” he says. “It evens the playing field out.”
The tour included a look at the part of the facility where medical-grade acrylic adhesive is applied and where raw materials are turned into bandages and packaged. About 14 million bandages are made a day at ASO. The company produced more than 3 billion bandages last year.
After the tour, seen in this video, Buchanan spoke to ASO employees and called the company a “great American success story.”
“I think it's really unlimited, the growth and opportunity here with a partner like Wal-Mart,” Buchanan says. “We need to focus more on manufacturing in Florida. We're very proud of this company, and I want to make sure we focus on companies like yours. We need to do everything we can to help our manufacturers.”