By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The vice president of a Miami-Dade business says he has a surplus of 30 million coveted N95 masks but is facing a serious problem – a lack of buyers.

DemeTech is a family-owned business that had been a medical suture maker until the pandemic. That’s when DemeTech got into the business of making N95 and surgical masks at its four locations, including Miami Lakes and Doral.

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Company Vice President Luis Arguello Jr. told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that the company invested tens of millions of dollars in the new machinery.

Arguello said his firm like other American companies is facing stiff competition from manufacturers in China, whose prices are much lower.

He said, “Most people are basing themselves totally on price. It’s a war we cannot win against China. We are having a very difficult time in the private sector in regard to pricing. On average our masks are about 30% more expensive. The U.S. labor market is much more expensive than the labor market coming out of Asia.”

Arguello said it’s a huge challenge.

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“As an American company we pride ourselves on the hiring and paying of living wages to our employees,” he said. “As a consequence, our prices are higher. And then on the public sector there’s been a lot fighting over the election and the stimulus budget, so we’re waiting on the government to start buying masks.”

Arguello added another problem is that Facebook and Google have banned the sale and advertising of N95 masks partly out of concern that that practice could divert those masks away from the frontline health care workers who need them.

He said, “There is a problem in this country in that people do not know that we exist. We can’t advertise on Google. We can’t sell online. Most people don’t know where to buy N95 masks so we are having a very hard time educating consumers that we exist.

“This lack of buyers does hurt because we started all this as a medical manufacturer and with the PPE site we started to solve two problems. One to be able to get masks and two is to create jobs,” he said. “There is huge unemployment and we are trying to put people back to work.”

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Arguello said he wants to hire 5,000 more people for mask making at the company’s four sites. But now, because of a lack of buyers for his N95 masks, he said he may have to lay off some of his 1,500 employees.

Peter D'Oench