It has been known by a lot of names.
It first came to Norfolk as Roehr Products Company. It later became Sherwood Medical Industries and then Sherwood Medical Company. Next it was Sherwood Davis & Geck. Then it became Tyco/Kendall Healthcare. In 2007, it became Covidien.
This year, the medical supply manufacturer on South Highway 81 celebrates its 50th year in town, and its legacy as the first major industry to come to Norfolk.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we were one of the first large employers that were attracted to the Norfolk area, so we’re very pleased to be part of that legacy,” said Rui dos Santos, Norfolk plant manager.
As the story goes, the company decided to build its third plant in Norfolk more than 50 years ago, after then-mayor Warren Cook flew to Florida with a piece of green from a local golf course in an ice cream pail. The point was to show that Norfolk had a place for company executives to play golf if the plant was to be built in the city.
Cook’s actions were enough to pique the interest of the company president, who eventually visited Norfolk and committed to building the company’s new plant here. Roehr Products Company — as it was known then — began operating in Norfolk in 1961.
In a 2001 interview about the recruitment of Roehr, Cook told the Daily News, “We were so hungry for industry. We just knew we had to grow.”
Cook died in 2008, but the efforts he and other young businessmen made in bringing that first industry to town continue to make a positive mark on the local economy.
When Roehr first came to town, it brought roughly 300 new jobs and an additional annual income of about $1,250,000 to Norfolk.
Today, Covidien employs nearly 400 people, a figure that expands and contracts throughout the year based on demand, and dos Santos said he can’t fathom the impact the company has made on the community’s economy overall.
“To quantify that would be tremendous,” he said. “But I can assure you that it is many, many, many multiples of that. If you just look at our presence over 50 years and the . . . employees that we’ve employed over those years and the support provided to families in Norfolk, I think certainly we have contributed quite significantly to the local economy.”
Covidien manufactures a variety of medical supply products at the Norfolk plant, including small syringes used for the delivery of insulin for diabetes patients. It also makes a range of blood collection tubes and thermometer probe covers. Also, the Norfolk plant does injection molding for its sister facilities and molds certain plastic components that are used in the assembly of other medical devices.
Dos Santos said the commitment and dedication of Covidien’s employees has helped make the company a success throughout the years.
“With every parent company, there has been a new way of doing things — higher expectations, different expectations, and I think, certainly, over the years, the plant has adjusted well to those challenges, and we’ve stepped up and delivered,” dos Santos said.
Despite a sluggish economy in recent years, dos Santos said the company maintains a positive outlook on the future. He said individuals in the company’s corporate office do a good job of keeping their fingers on the pulse of the latest developments in health care and related legislation that could impact the local plant.
Covidien also is positioning itself for future growth by keeping its head down and focusing on what it does best in terms of manufacturing the products its customers need and want. By maintaining a competitive edge in the marketplace and making the right investments in technology, the facility can continue to expand.
In the past 50 years, the Norfolk Covidien plant has grown from 50,000 square feet to 250,000 square feet. While it is currently being considered for another expansion, dos Santos said there are a number of factors that still need to be worked out before those possibilities come to fruition.
“We’ve seen the facility grow over the years. We’d like to see that continue,” he said.