River, rail attracted Rentech to Natchez

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

Natchez &8212; A &8220;perfect storm&8221; converged to lead fuel manufacturer Rentech Inc. to Mississippi.


Hurricanes Katrina and Rita showed many people that the nation&8217;s energy supply is vulnerable, said Rentech director of investor relations Mark Koenig.

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Rentech has been researching and developing methods to make liquid fuel from coal for more than two decades.

But the company, which is now interested in building a 200-employee plant in Adams County, has not yet had a full-scale commercial venture.

But the climate may now be right for government and corporate clients to be interested in alternative fuels.

&8220;We say the perfect storm has formed,&8221; Koenig said.

Rentech has already purchased an ammonia plant in East Dubuque, Ill., where it plans to build a coal gasification facility.

As the company looked for other sites to build similar ventures, Mississippi was on the radar screen.

But other sites didn&8217;t work out, and the company looked elsewhere, said Richard Sheppard, president of Rentech Development, a Rentech subsidary.

&8220;We left Mississippi for several months,&8221; Sheppard said. &8220;Then we got a call from our local people who said we really need to look at something for Mississippi.&8221;

Sheppard knew what his company needed: access to rail and river.

Local site selectors suggested Natchez, and soon Sheppard and local economic development officials were on a conference call.

&8220;When they described the site, I said that sounds like what we need,&8221; Sheppard said. &8220;We really have been very impressed with the people in Adams County.&8221;

The Natchez site is also ideal because coal from the Illinois facility could be shipped downriver for use at the site.

And if both plants are under construction at roughly the same time, that helps the timetable for Natchez.

&8220;It would cut out the front-end time&8221; for the Adams County facility, Sheppard said.

In addition to the jobs &8212; both in construction and at the facility &8212; the project would infuse $650 million to $750 million into Natchez&8217;s economy, Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority chairman Woody Allen said.

And the project would boost activity at the Adams County Port and help keep rail access in Natchez.

Earlier this month, Canadian National announced it would not abandon its rail line for at least a year, in part because of the reopening of Georgia-Pacific&8217;s two lumber mills in Roxie and Gloster.