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

The House of Delegates on Thursday gave preliminary approval to legislation that would establish a grant program of up to $4.6 million for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in order to support the recruitment and training of employees at medical glove manufacturer Blue Star NBR’s new nitrile glove production facility in Wythe County.

House Bill 86, sponsored by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Smyth County, would make these grant dollars available through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program. 

Speaking on the House floor Thursday, Campbell reminded lawmakers that as COVID-19 spread across the nation in 2020, health care providers were facing a critical shortage of gloves, masks, gowns, and other protective gear that were considered precious commodities, especially in the early stages of the outbreak. 

“For a part of the past years, we’ve been under a very dark cloud of a pandemic of monumental proportions and potentially unseen in modern history,” Campbell said. “It’s affected every corner of the globe, it’s shut down entire economies, it’s profoundly affected our families. I seriously doubt that any human being that you know has not been affected by terrible sickness or even death.”

Campbell said that domestic supply of personal protective equipment was “woefully inadequate” in the U.S., and Congress in an “astoundingly and extremely rare display of collective wisdom saw the need to incentivise domestic production here in America for PPE.”

For Virginia, the latter came in the form of a project by Blue Star Manufacturing and American Glove Innovations (AGI). Last fall, then-Gov. Ralph Northam touted the medical glove manufacturer Nitrile Glove’s plan to invest $714 million in a new production facility in Wythe County as the largest manufacturing job announcement in Virginia in the last 30 years – the company wants to bring nearly 2,500 jobs to the region in the next few years. The company will produce both nitrile gloves and the nitrile butadiene rubber needed to make them.

These facilities are expected to occupy more than 200 acres, and they have the potential to triple in size in future phases and incorporate multiple and contiguous large-scale vertically integrated production plants.

“This is the largest job creation in Southwest Virginia in a generation, and it’s a game-changer for our commonwealth,” Northam said in his announcement in October. “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.”

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

“This bill is part of the economic development agreement that was structured in that deal, and it would create an incentive program to help train prospective employees. It’s an example that every cloud, even the one that we’ve been under, has a silver lining,” Campbell said Thursday. 

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Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.