New plant promising 2,500 jobs for southwest Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A medical glove manufacturing facility promising to employ nearly 2,500 people is coming to southwest Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday, calling the news the biggest job-creation announcement in the struggling region in a generation.

Backed by significant federal spending, the project in Wythe County, 250 miles west of the state capital, is expected to create a number of jobs per capita equivalent to Amazon’s new headquarters in Arlington, according to the governor’s office.

In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of a formal announcement Monday afternoon, Northam called the project a big win for southwest Virginia and said the pandemic and associated supply chain problems had shown the need for more on-shore production of personal protective equipment.

Two companies, Blue Star Manufacturing and American Glove Innovations, have agreed to form a joint venture and invest $714 million to create both a nitrile butadiene rubber manufacturing facility and nitrile glove production operation, according to a news release. The facilities are expected to occupy more than 200 acres at an industrial park near the junction of interstates 77 and 81.

The project will increase the raw material production and manufacturing of gloves now primarily made in Asia, Northam’s office said. The company aims to sell the gloves to distributors and large end users, like health care companies.

The announcement comes after one of the LLCs that is part of the venture was awarded a $123.1 million Department of Defense contract to increase the production capacity of nitrile butadiene rubber in May, federal spending records show.

Virginia competed with Tennessee and Texas for the project, which state officials said was expected to result in 2,464 new jobs within the next three to five years.

In order to secure the project, the commonwealth agreed to pay for $8.5 million in water infrastructure upgrades to the industrial site, called Progress Park.

An Associated Press review in 2019 found that despite hefty spending, many of the state’s industrial parks were sitting empty. Local officials said in the news release that Monday’s announcement showed their previous investments in Progress Park had paid off.

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, the entity created to spend and invest Virginia’s portion of the national tobacco settlement, also approved $1.02 million from the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund to “support additional public infrastructure,” Northam’s office said.

A legislative commission created to tighten the oversight of economic development initiatives signed off on the $8.5 million water infrastructure investment, according to the news release. The project is also eligible to apply for state benefits from a rail access program and a workforce services initiative.

GOP Rep. Morgan Griffith, who represents southwest Virginia’s 9th congressional district, called the announcement “tremendous news for the region.”

“It will provide opportunity for our citizens, economic growth for local communities, and tax revenues to support public services,” he said in a statement.

Northam said the project would create “good-paying jobs.” The news release did not specify the average wage.

Wythe County is located about an hour’s drive southwest of Roanoke. For over a decade, its unemployment rate has trended higher than the state as a whole, according to state data, though in 2020 its rate was lower than the national average.

Southwest Virginia has been on a long economic decline as coal mining jobs dried up and many manufacturing jobs moved overseas. The region has also been losing population. An initiative examining how the state can provide economic transition support to the coalfields is currently underway, with a report expected later this year.

The Northam administration has also sought to improve broadband access and transportation in the region, including rail access.

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