Mediatech, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corning, has quietly made essential ingredients for life-changing products in Prince William County’s Innovation Park since 2007. Located at 9345 Discovery Boulevard, the plant’s 150 employees manufacture cell culture media and other products that help scientists research and test advancements.
“The simple explanation of our products is food and nutrients at a cellular level,” says George Turner, plant manager. “After our extensive water processing here at the plant, our water is so pure that it cannot conduct electricity and it should not be ingested by humans. That water becomes the bedrock of everything else that we make. It’s not just water; it's the perfect blank canvas to add precise amounts of salts, sugars, and similar chemicals to produce highly consistent products each and every batch.”
Acquired by Corning in 2011, the plant has continued to grow worldwide distribution of their products. Turner notes that being part of a global corporation had his team more prepared than most businesses when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As part of a strategic plan shared with 50,000 employees worldwide, Corning had trained the staff on an established business continuity plan with a pandemic playbook.
“Because we had this framework already established, we were prepared,” says Turner. “We adapted to the specific details for COVID-19 as they emerged. Our primary goal was to maximize employee care and wellbeing and then focus on supply continuity during a period when our products were needed the most.”
Turner worked with Kathy Haywood, human resources manager, to organize shift schedules, ensure proper cleaning methods, and implement safety standards for all employees.
“We have a culture of caring for our employees at Corning, whether it’s through COVID-19 or just everyday work,” says Haywood. “The company implemented ‘Responsible Corning,’ and we worked hard to ensure employees felt supported, including allowing 10 percent of the company’s population to work from home.”
Because the plant’s production stayed online, the team began to think about how to develop products that could help their customers on the frontline of COVID-19.
“In the early part of the pandemic, we saw an increased demand for certain ingredients that we were able to link to COVID-19 test kits,” says Turner. “These test kits are used to keep a virus alive during transit to test for the presence or lack of presence of a virus from a human sample.”
Turner and his team began ramping up production of those ingredients, but they also did key outreach to customers to ask if they were interested in an assembled product, providing valuable time back to overwhelmed lab technicians.
“The answer was a resounding yes, so we quickly developed the capability to mix the ingredients together and provide a solution called Viral Transport Media (VTM),” says Turner. “Then we took it one step further by creating the test kit itself by June of 2020.”
In addition to serving their more than 6,000 existing worldwide customers, new high-profile customers quickly emerged with the new VTM product line. To find the necessary new workforce to meet the increasing demand, Haywood reached out to the Prince William County’s Department of Economic Development.
“We worked closely with Existing Business, Engagement & Entrepreneurship Director Michele Weatherly to connect with George Mason University and the county schools to find the people we needed to hire in a short period of time,” says Haywood. “Through Michele’s referral, we were able to bring on around 15 local high school graduates and college-level students who were able to help with our production line in addition to another 50 workers through other referral initiatives.”
The new product line has been exciting, but with more than 17 years in the industry, Turner hammers home that exceptional experiences are a mainstay of a career in the life sciences.
“One of the really exciting dimensions of working for Corning/Mediatech is that the products we manufacture truly make a difference in the world,” says Turner. “Every morning when I wake up, I know our amazing team will make products for customers who will deliver a life-changing discovery or a health benefit to the world. Bringing science to life—that’s very cool.”