Mark Williams | The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus, OH (September 8, 2021)
A Grove City warehouse is being converted into a factory meant to bring back to the United States production of a key item in the fight against COVID-19: nitrile gloves.
A Columbus native is behind the more than $100 million project that will create 400 jobs and initially produce 4.6 billion medical and nonmedical, latex-free nitrile gloves a year. Production at the 527,000-square-foot plant at 3500 Southwest Blvd. is expected to begin early next year.
“What we feel we’re doing has such purpose in it,” said Jacob Block, the 29-year-old founder and CEO of the startup, called American Nitrile, that has a motto of “Bringing Manufacturing Back Home.”
Block, who grew up in Bexley and went to Ohio State University before moving to New York City, got the idea for American Nitrile during the pandemic.
U.S. medical facilities and other users scrambled for gloves and other kinds of personal protective equipment as the coronavirus spread throughout the globe, leading to shortages. Most gloves come from Malaysia and other suppliers based in the Asia-Pacific region.
Block, who is the grandson of Block’s Bagels founder Harold Block and the brother of BrewDog USA CEO Jason Block, during the pandemic has worked as a broker, buying as much PPE as he could and reselling it to medical facilities and other customers that needed it.
“Nitrile gloves, it became the hottest thing. You had a clear break of the supply chain,” he said.
While COVID-19 may have been the inspiration for the company, Block sees long-term growth beyond the pandemic, with demand growing 12% to 14% per year for the next several years. The health care sector along with stores, hotels, government agencies and other non-medical facilities are expected to be customers of the company.
Nitrile gloves have a 54.6% market share of the medical glove market, according to a report by Research and Markets. The global market was valued at $5 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $9.4 billion in 2027, according to Grand View Research.
Asian suppliers will have a cost advantage over American Nitrile. Block said the company is working to eventually match Asian suppliers and even bring those costs below theirs.
The company is making the pitch that it can be a reliable U.S. source of gloves even if they cost a bit more and that gloves can be shipped more quickly from Ohio than from overseas, he said.
“We’re hopeful of industry coming back and hopefully in Ohio,” he said.
Nitrile is made from nitrile butadiene rubber, a synthetic substance with an allergy-safe compound and a similar feel to latex.
The company says nitrile gloves are more cost effective, provide superior comfort and are up to three times more puncture resistant than latex gloves. Also, one in five people has an allergy to latex.
American Nitrile has raised money from investors for the project. It also has received a $3.5 million grant from JobsOhio.
The company is hiring mostly executive positions initially.
The company expects production to begin this winter, and all 12 lines of the first phase should be running in 2022. Those lines will be able to make 40,000 gloves per hour or 3.6 billion a year.
As production scales up, so will hiring. Block said wages for production workers will mostly range from $45,000 to $65,000 per year.