A major joint venture has committed to build a manufacturing operation in Wythe County, VA, that projects to employ 2,500 people and produce 60 billion medical gloves a year. The investment comes as Virginia has committed $8.5 million to upgrade infrastructure at Progress Park in Wythe County. The actions would return manufacturing of key personal protective equipment (PPE) onshore to the United States from Asia, after global supply chains were disrupted early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The investment would represent the largest job creation in Southwest Virginia in a generation.
The Commonwealth’s investments will include $3 million to expand the Fort Chiswell Wastewater Plant, $1.5 million to extend public sewer infrastructure, and $4 million to build a water tank serving all of Progress Park. The water tank and plant upgrades will also serve the surrounding community in Wythe County. The infrastructure upgrades will make Progress Park more competitive for attracting a variety of significant manufacturing projects in the future.
As a direct result of the investments, Blue Star NBR, LLC and Blue Star-AGI, Inc., a joint venture between Blue Star Manufacturing and American Glove Innovations (AGI), have committed to invest $714.1 million to establish the largest, most advanced nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR) manufacturing facility and nitrile glove production operation in the region. These contiguous manufacturing facilities are expected to occupy more than 200 acres, have the potential to triple in size in future phases, and incorporate multiple large-scale vertically integrated production plants to support continued growth.
This investment would increase the raw material production and manufacturing of exclusively “Made in America” personal protection nitrile gloves, which are currently manufactured primarily in Asia. Tennessee and Texas were also considered for the project.
Blue Star-AGI is breaking ground on what will be innovative, efficient, AI-driven, and vertically integrated nitrile glove manufacturing facilities. The facilities will all be located on the same campus, which will optimize cost of goods, reduce freight, improve logistics, and accelerate overall speed to market.
“It comes with great pleasure and an even greater sense of responsibility to bring critical medical supply manufacturing back to the U.S.,” said Blue Star NBR Founder Ken Mosher. “The domestic glove industry moved to Asia and we are now perfectly positioned in a fully vertical partnership with American Glove Innovations to have things come full-circle and provide a boost to domestic manufacturing employment.”
Blue Star NBR produces nitrile butadiene rubber, an oil-resistant synthetic rubber made from a copolymer of acrylonitrile and butadiene. The first NBR facility in Wythe County is expected to have an annual capacity of approximately 90,000 metric tons, which can support the production of up to 11 billion gloves annually.
“These investments are leading to the largest job creation commitment Southwest Virginia has seen in a generation, and it’s a game-changer for the Commonwealth,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “This is about investing to bring jobs back to the United States from overseas, and doing it right here in rural America. We can all be proud the Commonwealth’s investment is bringing these jobs back to America at this unique manufacturing campus.”
The first of Blue Star-AGI’s facilities aims to have a launch capacity of 8 billion gloves per year. The company expects to quickly and efficiently bring to market its additional glove production facilities with a full-scale plan to reach 60 billion gloves per year. The focus will be predominantly on the North American market.
The company will produce for distributors and large end users in the healthcare, government, retail, and hospitality sectors. This production will meet ongoing demand and help mitigate hospital and front-line worker exposures and supply chain shortages and breakdowns.
“American Glove Innovations is thrilled to be partnering with Blue Star NBR to create the world’s most innovative, fully integrated facility to provide Americans with what they rightfully deserve and what is much needed throughout the pandemic and far into the future,” said Blue Star-AGI Co-Chief Executive Officer Marc Jason. “We felt that there was a very timely opportunity to not be dependent on the whims of Asia when we have right here in America all the skills, capabilities, and intelligence to be market leading, self-sufficient, and highly competitive.”
Nitrile glove manufacturing is primarily consolidated to Malaysia, Thailand, and China. Demand for nitrile gloves is currently at an all-time high due to disruptions in the supply chain from COVID-19 outbreaks, long delivery times, ocean transportation risks, tariffs, and other challenges.
The nitrile glove market is expected to grow 9 percent annually through 2027, creating further need for increased production. According to company officials, the combination of Blue Star NBR’s supply of raw material, Blue Star Manufacturing’s glove manufacturing and sales experience, and AGI’s glove equipment manufacturing experience will create a partnership capable of competing domestically and globally in the nitrile glove market.
Blue Star NBR and Blue Star-AGI’s vertical integration in Progress Park is expected to help the two companies avoid supply chain disruptions and market fluctuations in the price of NBR latex.
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