Ottawa printing company says plan to produce medical masks stuck in limbo

Michael Hothi
Michael Hothi is the owner of Trico Packaging & Print Solutions. File photo
Editor's Note

This article has been updated with a comment from Lisa MacLeod's spokesperson.

The owner of an Ottawa printing company says he’s ready to purchase machinery that will allow his firm to churn out up to 100,000 medical-grade masks a day ​– but he’s waiting to learn whether he’ll have a market for the personal protective equipment.

Michael Hothi, owner of Trico Packaging & Print Solutions, says he and his business partners have found a machine in China that can mass-produce masks suitable for use in hospitals and long-term care homes. 

Hothi says he has an agreement in principle to buy the equipment at a cost of just under $750,000. But he said he doesn’t want to finalize the deal without first getting assurances from the province that it will purchase masks he produces.

Hothi said he was recently on a call with provincial cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod, who represents the local riding of Nepean-Carleton, as well as Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli and other local industry leaders discussing how Ontario firms can aid in the fight against COVID-19.

He said he told the ministers he could start ramping up production of masks within a few days of receiving the machinery. He said he’s spoken with MacLeod’s office, but has yet to receive any guarantees that the masks will make their way to Ontario hospitals.  

“The message is clear: they want homegrown (personal protective equipment),” he said, referring to provincial and federal initiatives to support Canadian producers of masks and other technology used to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m just trying to find an ear. It’s time some of these organizations put their money where their mouth is.” 

A spokesperson from MacLeod's office said in an email to OBJ on Thursday night that the minister's staffers "are actively engaged with Mr. Hothi and are currently tracking his masks submission through the Ontario Together portal, which is currently with the Ontario Health Intake team for consideration. We will continue to work with Mr. Hothi and advise him on any status updates regarding his submission."

Hothi, who bought Trico from its previous owners in late February, said the 36-year-old company’s revenues have dropped 40 per cent since efforts to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus shut down much of the Ontario economy nearly two months ago. 

He said he’s hoping that selling masks can help make up for some of the downturn in the printing side of the operation. Trico has been forced to temporarily lay off several of its 45 employees, although Hothi says he’s ready to rehire them and begin manufacturing masks 24-7 if the province signals it will buy the PPE.