WeatherTech, maker of car floor mats, switches gears to make COVID-19 face shields

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

WeatherTech owner and Trump megadonor David MacNeil is bucking the president with a new product line — plastic face shields to protect against COVID-19.

Eight months into the resurgent pandemic, the southwest suburban car floor mat manufacturer is getting into the personal protection equipment business in a big way, despite ongoing politicization over face masks.

“We have hundreds of thousands of them in stock, ready to go,” said MacNeil, 61.

The FaceShield Air, a sort of wearable sneeze guard, includes a comfort pad, headband and anti-fog lens. Priced at $24.95 for a three-pack, the reusable full-face device can be worn with or without a mask, according to the WeatherTech website.

Made in the same factory that turned Bolingbrook into the aftermarket vehicle floor mat capital of the U.S., WeatherTech’s latest addition to its eclectic catalog was months in development.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, MacNeil reached out to the federal government, initially offering to produce ventilators. He then contacted Ford and GM, which had been enlisted to make ventilators by the White House under the Defense Production Act, as well as ventilator manufacturers, to see if WeatherTech could help.

No one accepted his offer, and MacNeil decided to shift gears and make plastic face shields using WeatherTech’s injection molding production line.

“We thought we could make a great face shield, right here in America, and not have those jobs exported overseas,” MacNeil said.

MacNeil, who grew up in Oak Park and River Forest, started WeatherTech in 1989 out of his Clarendon Hills home. He began making floor mats using outside manufacturers, eventually bringing production in-house. MacNeil relocated operations to Bolingbrook in 2009.

WeatherTech diversified its product line in 2018 with the CupFone cellphone holder and an ergonomic dog food bowl. As with all his products, MacNeil touts his Made in America mantra in ubiquitous TV spots, including an annual Super Bowl commercial since 2014.

The company has 1,600 employees at its sprawling Bolingbrook campus, and MacNeil said business across all lines has remained strong. WeatherTech has been hiring people from other industries during the pandemic to keep up with demand, he said.

This year, MacNeil invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in everything from automatic temperature sensors at entryways to touchless time clocks in an effort to keep the factory going and COVID-19 from spreading among his workforce.

His employees all wear face masks.

“I’m not questioning whether it’s a good idea or bad idea,” MacNeil said. “I’m just following the rules and regulations and recommendations of the experts.”

MacNeil said safety protocols have been successful, touting that no more than two employees have been stricken with COVID-19 at a time since March.

A Trump megadonor, MacNeil contributed $1 million to the president’s January 2017 inauguration. But in 2018, MacNeil took a stand against the president’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, vowing not to fund Republicans that opposed legislation protecting immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

He remains an active Republican donor, most recently contributing $2,800 to the Trump presidential campaign and $35,500 to the Republican National Committee in July, according to Federal Election Committee records.

MacNeil’s latest venture seems at odds with Trump, who has been less than supportive, and at times dismissive, of wearing face coverings to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

The lack of a presidential seal of approval has not deterred MacNeil, who is bullish on the prospects for his new face shield.

“It’s really got nothing to do with being a Trump donor,” MacNeil said. “It’s another form of protection, and it’s certainly very effective and usable under the right circumstances.”

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

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