Infrastructure upgrades in Wythe County attract jobs, investment

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Virginia has committed $8.5 million to upgrade infrastructure at Progress Park in Wythe County, and now a major joint venture is committing to build a manufacturing operation there that projects to employ 2,500 people and produce up to 60 billion medical gloves a year.

The actions would return manufacturing of key personal protective equipment 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.

“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,” Gov. Ralph Northam said. “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. This can be transformational for all of Southwest Virginia.”

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 Commonwealth’s investments, Blue Star NBR, LLC and Blue Star-AGI, Inc., a joint venture between Blue Star Manufacturing and American Glove Innovations, have committed to invest $714.1 million to establish an advanced, one-of-a-kind nitrile butadiene rubber manufacturing facility and nitrile glove production operation in Wythe County’s Progress Park.

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 investment would increase the raw material production and manufacturing of exclusively ‘Made in USA’ personal protection nitrile gloves. These gloves are currently manufactured primarily in Asia. Virginia successfully competed with Tennessee and Texas for the project, which is expected to result in nearly 2,500 new jobs within three to five years.

Blue Star-AGI is breaking ground on the world’s most innovative, advanced, eco-conscious, efficient, automated, AI-driven, and vertically integrated nitrile glove manufacturing facilities. The facilities would all be located on the same campus, which would optimize cost of goods, reduce freight, improve logistics, and accelerate overall speed to market.

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.

“This project demonstrates how important infrastructure is to attracting and retaining companies,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “I want to thank Blue Star NBR and Blue Star-AGI for this significant job creating commitment and the many partners from the state, regional, and local levels who worked tirelessly to bring this project to fruition.”

The first of Blue Star-AGI’s facilities aims to have a launch quantity between 5 and 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.

Blue Star-AGI takes pride in its ‘Made in America’ approach and has full confidence that it is significantly more equipped than any other factory, both domestically and internationally, to tackle the ongoing market and scalability challenges facing the global glove 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. “I am proud to have been an integral part of the pioneering American team that invented the nitrile exam glove back in 1990, as well as helping to establish the disposable glove market. 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. We would like to thank the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Commonwealth of Virginia for their incredible support of this project.”

“American Glove Innovations is thrilled to be partnering with Blue Star 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. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Wythe County, the Joint Industrial Development Authority of Wythe County, Virginia’s Industrial Advancement Alliance, and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission, whose unrelenting support helped bring this incredible, game-changing, and very exciting operation to fruition.”

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. Company officials say that 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.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Wythe County, the Joint Industrial Development Authority of Wythe County, Virginia’s Industrial Advancement Alliance, and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission to secure the project for Virginia. The project will leverage regional water and sewer upgrades to be funded by the Commonwealth through an MEI-approved investment of $8.5 million.

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission approved $1.02 million from the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund to support additional public infrastructure for the project. The company is eligible to apply for benefits from the Railroad Industrial Access Program, administered by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Support for job creation will be provided through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a workforce initiative created by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in collaboration with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education partners. Funding support comes from the Northam administration and the Virginia General Assembly.

The program accelerates new facility start-ups through the direct delivery of recruitment and training services that are fully customized to a company’s unique products, processes, equipment, standards, and culture. All program services are provided at no cost to qualified new and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation.

Blue Star NBR and Blue Star-AGI will partner with Wytheville Community College for workforce training. The companies will also collaborate with Virginia Tech and other local educational institutions to recruit engineering school graduates to help keep employment and careers within Virginia.

“It is critical to invest in infrastructure and sites to ensure Virginia can successfully compete for a project of this caliber today and in the future,” said Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission Chair Senator Janet Howell. “I commend the team that worked tirelessly to ensure Blue Star NBR and Blue Star AGI selected Progress Park, and I am proud the MEI Commission could play a role in securing this transformational project.”

“We thank Blue Star NBR and Blue Star AGI for this historic investment in the Commonwealth,” said Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission Vice Chair Del. Luke Torian. “Virginia’s commitment to enhance the infrastructure at Progress Park will benefit current and future corporate partners. I am pleased the MEI Commission could collaborate with our state, regional, and local partners to ensure Blue Star selected Wythe County for these new operations that will create nearly 2,500 new jobs for the citizens of Southwest Virginia.”

“On behalf of the Wythe County Board of Supervisors, I welcome Blue Star NBR and Blue Star AGI to Progress Park,” said Wythe County Board of Supervisors Chairman Brian W. Vaught. “A project of this scope is why we invested so heavily in the development of Lot 24 in this park. Today, that investment begins to pay off. Wythe County and its partners have worked extensively to make sure the project needs are met as companies establish operations here at the crossroads of I-81 and I-77. We wish Blue Star NBR and Blue Star AGI a long and prosperous future.”

“In addition to thanking Blue Star NBR and Blue Star AGI for choosing Wythe County’s Progress Park, I would like to express appreciation to current and former members and staff of the Board of Supervisors, Joint Industrial Development Authority, and Wytheville Town Council, whose vision and millions of dollars of investments over 20 years have led to this momentous occasion,” said Wythe County Administrator Stephen Bear.

“Progress Park and Lot 24 were tailor-made for this project from Blue Star NBR and Blue Star AGI,” said Joint Industrial Development Authority of Wythe County Chairman David Kause. “We are excited to be able to support such a pivotal, high-impact operation coming to Wythe County. The Joint Industrial Development Authority staff and board have worked tirelessly for more than seven years to bring an appropriate project to Lot 24, and this exceeds expectations. The economic impact of this project is tremendous, and we welcome the companies to Wythe County and Progress Park.”

“It has been a privilege to work with my colleagues at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership as we have sought this project for Wythe County,” said Joint Industrial Development Authority of Wythe County Executive Director David Manley. “I commend the diligence and collaboration demonstrated by our interdisciplinary working group’s efforts. The Blue Star team has also been driven to make this project work in Southwest Virginia, and we are thrilled to welcome them to our community.”

“The Virginia Industrial Advancement Alliance would like to thank all local officials, the Tobacco Commission, American Electric Power, and countless others for the vision and unwavering commitment in establishing one of the premier industrial sites in Virginia,” said Virginia Industrial Advancement Alliance Executive Director Josh Lewis. “After years of extraordinary effort and steadfast determination by many, it is a very joyous occasion to announce this opportunity for the citizens of Wythe County and the region. We are honored to be a part of the team to work on this project and look forward to supporting the establishment and future success of Blue Star in Progress Park.”

“The Commission is thrilled to have played a role in bringing a project of this magnitude to Southwest Virginia,” said Tobacco Commission member Del. Chris Hurst. “I am also pleased that the Commission’s investment over the years in Progress Park, where this new facility will be located, is paying off in a big way. This goes to show that with the right kind of strategic investment in areas like infrastructure, workforce training, and more, Southwest Virginia can compete with anyone when it comes to attracting top employers to the region. This is a great day for the region and the Commonwealth.”

“Wytheville Community College’s administration and workforce team are excited to be working with our local economic development partners and our partners at the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program to support Blue Star NBR and Blue Star AGI as they locate here in Wythe County,” said Wytheville Community College President Dr. Dean Sprinkle. “Helping develop the workforce our region’s employers need is a longstanding effort for Wytheville Community College, and we look forward to aiding this exciting new enterprise as they assemble their skilled workforce.”

“This major project will bring nearly 2,500 jobs to Wythe County and will be a major boost for the local economy,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner. “I’m proud that investing in the Commonwealth’s infrastructure has allowed us to bring jobs back to America and compete at a global level in the manufacturing industry.”

“I am incredibly proud of the steps the Commonwealth has taken in recent years to make this project a reality,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine. “Not only will this investment promote economic development in Wythe County, but it will also support our pandemic response with the production of critically needed American-made medical supplies. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, I will continue working to create jobs and improve economic opportunities for people across the Commonwealth.”

“The arrival of Blue Star NBR, LLC and Blue Star AGI in Progress Park is tremendous news for the region,” said Congressman H. Morgan Griffith. “By creating nearly 2,500 manufacturing jobs and investing over $714 million, it will provide opportunity for our citizens, economic growth for local communities, and tax revenues to support public services. This is a significant achievement for the people of Wythe County.”

“I am so very pleased to see the massive investment this project will bring to Wythe County and the opportunity it presents for our people,” said Del. Jeffrey Campbell. “The prospect of nearly 2,500 good-paying jobs over five years is a game changer for our local economy.”


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