A medical supply company founded in the early stages of the pandemic said Wednesday that it intends to build a $350 million glove-manufacturing facility at Tradepoint Atlantic and ultimately bring more than 2,000 new jobs to the Baltimore County site through a multiphase, three-year development.
If all goes to plan, United Safety Technology will move into a 735,000-square-foot former Bethlehem Steel warehouse and make nitrile gloves — the kind worn every day by clinicians, doctors, dentists and first responders — as early as the first quarter of next year. These thin blue rubber gloves are made almost exclusively outside America, and they grew scarce amid skyrocketing demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plant’s development is being supported by the federal government under a contract meant to encourage increase domestic production of nitrile gloves.
Standing on a stage in a cavernous warehouse the size of nearly 13 football fields Wednesday morning, elected officials and company executives called the factory not just a boon to the local economy, but a critical addition to national security.
“We’re a team leading the movement to bring lifesaving [personal protective equipment] production back to our shores. We can protect the safety and security of our communities in America,” said Dan Izhaky, CEO of United Safety Technology. “Not only is it a noble mission, but it’s also an exciting one.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called the planned factory a “game-changer.”
“The U.S. currently produces less than 1% of the world’s supply [of nitrile gloves],” Hogan said. “This exciting new facility will change that.”
Acting on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense awarded a $96.1 million contract to United Safety Technology to increase U.S. production of the gloves.
“Before the pandemic, I never thought about a nitrile glove,” Izhaky said, but now he knows it’s “critical to the safety of our front-line responders” to produce nitrile gloves in the United States.
Izhaky said the rest of the $350 million investment is coming from private sources that he declined to identify.
The state of Maryland is supporting the project with up to $61 million of tax credits and conditional loans, including $42 million worth of tax rebates available through the More Jobs for Marylanders Incentive Program, according to an agreement with the state. United Safety Technology will have to hit certain hiring benchmarks and capital expenditure targets to get the full $61 million.
Baltimore County also pledged up to $900,000 in conditional loans under the same agreement. County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. also spoke at Wednesday’s event.
“I’m so glad to see that Sparrows Point and Tradepoint Atlantic is in fact becoming that economic engine, a powerhouse for Baltimore County and the state of Maryland, and now for our country,” Olszewski said. “So thank you, [United Safety Technology], for this critical investment.”
The project will have three phases, Izhaky said, with the first phase costing $150 million. By the end of phase one, the site is expected to be able to produce 375 million nitrile gloves a month, Izhaky said. The site eventually will produce N95 masks and other personal protective equipment in later phases, bringing more than 2,000 new jobs to the area with entry-level workers making about $45,000 to $50,000 a year, he said.
Izhaky said United Safety Technology, which was founded in 2020, will move all of its manufacturing to Tradepoint Atlantic, the 3,300-acre manufacturing and logistics hub in Sparrows Point that once was the site of the sprawling Bethlehem Steel mill. The company previously had been making N95 masks in California.
“We found Baltimore to be a more attractive solution based on the utilities available, the labor pool available,” said Izhaky, praising Tradepoint Atlantic.
He also noted access to a port, two rail lines and a highway.
Kerry Doyle, the managing director of Tradepoint Atlantic, said Wednesday was a memorable day.
“It is truly one of the most exciting announcements we’ve made at Tradepoint Atlantic,” Doyle said.
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The United Safety Technology plant will help boost the U.S. supply of the gloves, 99% of which are manufactured in Malaysia, China, Vietnam and Thailand, said Will Benton, the company’s chief commercial officer.
Benton said the U.S. market uses 55 billion to 60 billion pairs of nitrile gloves every year, but health care workers struggled to get enough nitrile gloves during the pandemic and at different times the cost of nitrile gloves surged to seven or eight times the historical costs.
“It’s the first line of defense with all the clinicians that are helping us on a daily basis,” Benton said of the nitrile glove. “It’s a bit of an unsung hero.”
Tinglong Dai, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University and an expert on the medical supply chain, said he was grateful to hear America is reinvesting in PPE manufacturing.
“This is a matter of national security, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine,” Dai wrote in an email. “We cannot rely on countries that are our adversaries or are far away to provide essential medical supplies during a public health crisis or war.”
Dai also noted that innovation and manufacturing often go hand-in-hand.
“N95 masks were developed in the U.S. in the 1990s because we had abundant manufacturing capacity at the time. Engineers, technicians, workers, and production managers are typically located close to where things are manufactured,” he wrote. “We will eventually lose the ability to invent things if we lose the ability to make things.”