Rentech seen as boon for small town

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 15, 2005

It&8217;s a Mississippi River community whose economy is largely based on tourism, one that has lost a couple of larger industries in recent years &8212; and they&8217;re thrilled Rentech may be coming to town.

But this isn&8217;t Natchez. Instead, it&8217;s East Dubuque, Ill., population 1,800 and home to the Royster-Clark Inc. fertilizer plant Denver-based Rentech has signed a stock agreement to purchase.

&8220;We&8217;re glad they&8217;re coming here. It sounds like a win-win situation for us,&8221; said Al Griffiths, city manager for East Dubuque, which lies next to the unincorporated county site where the plant will locate.

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If Rentech sounds familiar, it&8217;s with good reason. Last week, the company announced that pending approval of state and federal incentives, it would build a 200-job plant at the former Belwood Country Club site near the Natchez-Adams Port, completing construction by fall 2010. The plant would convert coal to a clear diesel fuel, generating a byproduct of fertilizer.

In the case of East Dubuque, the existing RC plant hasn&8217;t closed -&8212; it still employs about 150 people. Rentech plans to build its coal-to-gas facility next to the RC plant, which now uses increasingly expensive natural gas. Once the Rentech plant is built in three years, it would use up to 5,200 tons of Illinois coal a day to produce its clear diesel fuel, called Fischer-Tropsch, and the RC facility would use it instead.

&8220;We look at it this way: it allows us to use our natural resource to help the plant stay in business,&8221; Griffiths said, adding that the high price of natural gas &8220;is one of the issues that affects (RC&8217;s) ability to stay competitive.&8221;

Not only that, but as in the case of Natchez, construction of the Rentech facility is expected to generate up to 1,500 construction jobs during the building of the plant, which the company has said should start about one year from now.

A similar deal to buy RC stock fell through in April when Rentech couldn&8217;t fund the deal, but company officials have said Rentech now has the available stock to fund the project.

All this is good news for East Dubuque, where a 60-job industry burned down and a gambling boat with 300 jobs left town in recent years.

, Mayor Jeff Barklow said.

&8220;It&8217;ll create more than 100 jobs, and from the company&8217;s explanations, it&8217;s a cleaner process&8221; than using other fuel sources, Barklow said. &8220;We&8217;re looking forward to them coming here.&8221;