WASHINGTON—More than $200 million in federal money is going toward increased domestic nitrile glove production at private firms.
It's part of a larger push by the U.S. government to lessen the country's dependency on imported personal protection equipment following critical shortages last year as COVID-19 raged.
This includes additional cash for one company that's already begun construction of additional glove making capacity in the Northeast and has plans for a second facility in Texas.
Renco Corp. is receiving a $35 million contract modification to increase nitrile glove production both at its existing Colebrook, N.H., location and at a planned facility in Houston.
Renco previously was awarded a $22 million contract to expand in New Hampshire at its American Performance Polymers subsidiary, and the modified contract now will help fund construction in Houston, CEO Rich Renehan said in a June 22 interview.
Reshoring glove and other PPE manufacturing is an important step in preventing the shortages that occurred in 2020, he said.
"It's jobs in America and it's an industry that needs to be domestic because it's critical infrastructure for medical care," Renehan said.
Along with greatly expanding the company's existing Colebrook site, Renehan said locating a glove making facility in the Houston area makes logistical sense.
Renco is in the process of identifying an existing building that meets glove manufacturing requirements. The company wants to use an existing building to go into production more quickly. But there are unique building requirements of glove lines, which are hundreds of feet in length.
"The next logical place was Houston so we can be closer to raw material vendors and suppliers. That's why we've chosen Houston for that next location," Renehan explained.
The CEO said the country needs a network of glove-making facilities to help fill the needs of the nation, whether they end up being Renco locations or not.
Virtually all rubber gloves made in the world come from Malaysia and the pandemic strained global supply lines to the point where countries were in desperate competition with one another to secure shipments. The result was higher prices as demand outstripped supply during the teeth of the pandemic.
The divide between the supply and demand left severe shortages during the pandemic's height, underscoring the need to onshore production of certain medical goods. Now the U.S. is working to revitalize domestic glove manufacturing to help avoid the situation in the future.
"The target is 1.8 billion gloves per year to 2 billion gloves for Houston, and Colebrook should max out at about a billion gloves," Renehan explained.
Houston will include 10 high-speed dip lines that will boost production by 166.7 million gloves per month by 2022, the DOD said.
Buyers in America have to commit to paying "a little more" for domestically produced gloves to ensure the long-term viability of production. A return to a lowest-cost-only approach ultimately will sink the resurgence now occurring, he warned.
With such a commitment, glove companies can successfully deliver their products and then innovate and improve, he said. "Because what America is great at is making things better. We've got a bunch of brilliant minds that can improve and innovate."
Renco is not the only company receiving federal funding to help develop the domestic glove industry.
A U.S. Department of Defense contract for $63.6 million with U.S. Medical Glove Co. L.L.C. will allow the company to increase production by 2.31 billion gloves annually at its Fort Knox, Ky., location by May 2023. The contract was made in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"The award will facilitate the production of 24 new production lines to support domestic nitrile exam glove manufacturing," DOD said in a statement
The contract for Kentucky is part of U.S. Medical Glove's plans to create a network of six regional hubs around the country. The company said it expects to employ as many as 3,000 workers.
Another $123.1 million contract with Blue Star NBR L.L.C. of Berlin, Conn., will help that company boost production of nitrile butadiene rubber at a new Virginia location. Blue Star expects output to increase by 90,000 metric tons per year by August 2022.
Officials at both U.S. Medical Glove and Blue Star NBR could not immediately be reached for comment.
Funding for all three rubber-related projects, totaling about $221.7 million, is coming through the U.S. Department of Defense in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.