Governor Ralph Northam and other officials in Wythe County. Courtesy of Wythe County IDA

Updated Oct. 8: Bill Mosher, vice president of operations for Blue Star NBR, said in an email late Thursday that groundbreaking for the project is scheduled for November, with the first facility expected to begin production in the third quarter of 2022. Several hundred employees will be hired to run the first facilities over the course of 2022, he said, with hiring expected to ramp up to “thousands of positions” shortly after. Positions will include managerial roles, engineering, maintenance technicians, lab technicians and production operators, he said.

A medical glove manufacturer says it will bring nearly 2,500 jobs and invest $714 million in Wythe County over the next five years, one of the largest manufacturing job announcements in Virginia in the last 30 years.

The operation, a project of Blue Star NBR LLC and Blue Star-AGI Inc., will produce both nitrile gloves and the nitrile butadiene rubber needed to make them. The companies said they expect that the site’s vertical integration will help them avoid supply chain disruptions and fluctuations in the cost of raw materials, problems that have plagued the industry particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Production will start at between 5 and 8 billion gloves per year, with plans to reach production of 60 billion gloves per year, according to a news release.

Monday’s announcement did not say when site work would begin, or when production is likely to start. An email sent to a Blue Star spokesperson Monday afternoon had not received a response by publication time.

The campus initially will take 233 acres at Progress Park, a 1,200-acre industrial park near the junction of Interstates 81 and 77. The site was chosen over locations in Texas and Tennessee, the release said.

The site in Wythe County. Courtesy of Wythe County IDA.

“This is the largest job creation in Southwest Virginia in a generation, and it’s a game-changer for our commonwealth,” Northam said. “We’re bringing jobs from overseas back to the United States and doing it right here in rural America. We can all be proud the commonwealth’s investment brought these jobs back to America at this unique manufacturing campus. This is transformational for all of Southwest Virginia.”

According to a Virginia Economic Development Partnership database, this project is the second-largest manufacturing jobs announcement in the state since 1990, when the database begins. It’s also the largest jobs announcement in any sector outside the state’s urban crescent since the start of the database.

Demand for disposable gloves and other PPE has skyrocketed during the pandemic, leading to shortages and cost spikes. 

The Health Industry Distributors Association, a trade group, estimated that during the pandemic, global demand for single-use gloves exceeded production capacity by about 37%.

A July report by research firm Global Industry Analysts Inc. estimated that the global market for nitrile gloves was $14.1 billion in 2020 and will reach $57.1 billion by 2026.

Production has largely moved overseas over the years, with glove manufacturers centered in Southeast Asia. According to a February report in Forbes, Malaysian glove producers control nearly 60% of the North American market.

In May, Blue Star NBR was awarded a $123.1 million federal contract to expand its nitrile butadiene rubber production, according to the Department of Defense. The other company that is part of the Wythe County project, Blue Star-AGI, is a joint venture between Blue Star Manufacturing and American Glove Innovations.

The Progress Park operation will focus on the North American market, the companies said. It will produce gloves for distributors and large customers in the health care, government, retail and hospitality sectors. 

According to the state’s news release, state incentives include $8.5 million for water and sewer upgrades through the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment Project Commission and $1.02 million for infrastructure from the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund. The project also can apply for benefits from the Railroad Industrial Access Program, administered by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation. The Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a state workforce initiative, will provide support for job creation.

David Manley, executive director of the Joint Industrial Development Authority of Wythe County, said talks with Blue Star started this spring. The size of the resulting project “is hard to wrap our minds around,” he said.

“It’s the kind of project that this piece of property was built for.”

“Progress Park offered an excellent site,” Scott Maier, co-CEO of Blue Star-AGI, said in the news release. “The graded acreage plus accessible and substantial infrastructure made Wythe County competitive immediately. Once we visited the site, we knew it had great potential and now, we are looking forward to calling Wythe County home.”

Megan Schnabel is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org.

Megan Schnabel

Megan Schnabel is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org.