Post & Courier: Nephron will launch $100M medical glove spinoff in West Columbia to boost US supply

July 15, 2021

WEST COLUMBIA — Columbia-area pharmaceutical company Nephron will manufacture medical gloves, a $100 million spinoff that should employ 250 workers.

Gov. Henry McMaster, joining the company on its Lexington County campus, praised the project on July 15 for bringing manufacturing of nitrile gloves, considered a more durable material than traditional latex and less likely to trigger allergic reactions.

Making sure that more medical protective equipment is produced domestically has been a focus for McMaster after the United States was scrambling to find adequate supplies from overseas makers as the coronavirus pandemic took hold early last year.

“It is critical that South Carolina lead the charge in bringing the production of life-saving medications and supplies back home to the United States,” McMaster said.

“This is what success looks like,” the governor said.

The spinoff company, Nephron Nitrile, will be housed in the Kennedy Innovation Complex, now being built on its West Columbia campus.

It is expected to begin supplying gloves in early 2022, the company said in a statement.

“Over the course of the last year, we have poured every bit of creativity, energy and resources we have at our disposal into doing our part, as a proud Made-in-America manufacturer, to respond to an unprecedented crisis,” CEO Lou Kennedy said. “Nephron Nitrile is the latest part of our ongoing effort to make South Carolina the nationwide example for effectively responding to America’s needs, this time by shoring up the domestic supply chain.”

The company has a goal of making 3 billion gloves in its first year of operation, Kennedy said. Most gloves and other protective equipment for medical workers now are made in India or China, she said.

The glove assembly operation will be highly automated, and the 250 openings to be filled will be highly skilled ones, with salaries likely to be close to Nephron’s median pay of more than $70,000, Kennedy said.

“We have had no problem whatsoever hiring people,” she said.

Nephron announced $215 million in new investment in the Midlands last year, and that included the Kennedy complex where glove manufacturing will take place.

In its most recent expansion, Nephron purchased a new industrial building for $4.8 million from Lexington County, located about a mile south of the drugmaker’s central campus and across the street from the innovation center site in the Saxe Gotha Industrial Park.

In all, the company said it has invested more than an half-billion dollars and created almost 2,000 full- and part-time jobs since relocating its headquarters to the Midlands from Orlando, Fla., in 2017.

When Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., toured the facility in May 2020 touting his agenda to move production of pharmaceuticals and health care supplies back to the United States from overseas facilities, Kennedy latched on to the idea and told him about some of the ways she thought her company might make supplies in the United States.

“Right now we’re sourcing those around the globe and that’s not going to go away,” Kennedy said earlier this year. “The plan is to make some of what we need and sell the rest so we have a steady supply.”