The Nice-Pak plant in Jonesboro.

JONESBORO — The coronavirus pandemic made Nice-Pak’s Jonesboro plant a 24-hour a day, seven-day a week business, with officials projecting they will have hired 130 additional workers by the end of the year.

Next year, the company will expand its manufacturing capacity and create another 176 jobs.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined company officials Monday in Jonesboro to announce the expansion.

“For more than 10 years, Nice-Pak’s Jonesboro facility has served its customers and its community by manufacturing essential products for our day-to-day lives,” Hutchinson said during the announcement, which was broadcast via teleconferencing. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nice-Pak has worked harder than ever to provide essential resources to help people through this difficult time. I appreciate the value that this company places on the health and wellbeing of its customers and its employees, and I’m pleased that Nice-Pak will continue growing its operations in Jonesboro.”

Robert Julius, chairman and CEO of the New Jersey-based company, offered his comments via Zoom.

“Our products are essential for consumers to help stay healthy and well amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Julius said. “We have been working non-stop to produce more wipes than ever before, and we commend the tremendous performance of our Jonesboro associates, who have been terrific in rising to the challenge.”

The announcement by Nice-Pak, a pioneer and the leading global producer of wet wipes, came on the same day that Moderna Inc. announced extraordinarily strong early results from its experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5 percent effective, according to preliminary data from an ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own vaccine looked 90 percent effective – news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

The results are “truly striking,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-diseases expert. “The vaccines that we’re talking about, and vaccines to come, are really the light at the end of the tunnel.”

But Ricky Lester, Nice-Pak director of quality, says he believes demand for the company’s product will continue to grow even after the pandemic subsides.

“I think in general, we all can take some things for granted,” Lester told reporters following the official ceremony. “I think hand hygiene is a great example of that, where we’ve all been taught to wash our hands before dinner. But we didn’t really think about every other time hand hygiene is critical. I think the pandemic, unfortunately, highlighted that for us … So my children are great examples where they have a new appreciation for a basic of hand hygiene and that Nice-Pak has, thankfully, provided the right type of resource and tool to help us do that conveniently, effectively no matter where we are at.”

Nice-Pak was already planning some expansion here before the pandemic, Mark Young, president and CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce said.

“Nice-Pak’s expansion shows not only growth but strategic planning and foresight,” Young said. “The way Nice-Pak adapted to current economic pressures caused by the pandemic, increased production, and hired more people is the definition of an essential business. We take a lot of pride in Nice-Pak being part of Jonesboro.”

Mayor Harold Perrin also praised the company.

“When Nice-Pak announced they were coming to Jonesboro in 2009, we knew it was a company that was going to continue to grow right along with us,” the mayor said in a statement “From day one, Nice-Pak has continually fulfilled its commitment to Jonesboro by bringing good-paying jobs to our city. This new expansion is the latest chapter in Nice-Pak’s growing presence in Jonesboro. We are confident that Nice-Pak and Jonesboro will continue to grow together.”

The company has targeted the Jonesboro facility to obtain zero-landfill status as part of the “war on waste” that includes more efficient energy and water use, and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Nice-Pak’s facilities reused more than 16 tons of scrap nonwoven material in 2019 through partnerships with local packaging material suppliers at its worldwide locations.