Shareholders hear from Miss. leaders

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Mississippi native Brett Pittman was especially proud to attend the Thursday annual shareholder meeting of Rentech Inc., held in Denver.

There were no votes taken on the Natchez coal-to-liquid plant project that the company hopes to undertake at the former Belwood Country Club site. But Natchez was one of the buzzwords, Pittman said.

&8220;I&8217;ve been a shareholder for 10 years, and I never dreamed Rentech one day would be right in my back yard,&8221; Pittman said by telephone soon after the meeting ended.

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A Gulfport resident, Pittman and his family lost their home during Hurricane Katrina and are living in south Florida until they can rebuild on the Mississippi coast.

&8220;We were displaced by Katrina, but we will rebuild. We&8217;ll be back to Mississippi,&8221; he said.

The positive talk about his home state and about the Mississippi people with whom Rentech officials have worked in the past six months was exhilarating, Pittman said.

&8220;They had nothing but good things to say about Mississippi,&8221; he said. &8220;They said they &8216;wish every state would receive us the way Mississippi did.&8217;&8221;

Kudos went to Sen. Thad Cochran and Sen. Trent Lott, as well as to Gov. Haley Barbour, Pitman said. &8220;They had great things to say about the Legislature and everyone in Natchez.&8221;

The Natchez exposure and excitement created in the state &8220;has brought so much attention to the company. They are now in the national spotlight,&8221; Pittman said.

Mississippi politicians have helped to give exposure not only to Rentech but to the coal-to-liquid technology Rentech has developed during the past 20 years.

Rentech officials, along with officials from Peabody Coal, will appear before a Congressional committee in coming weeks to talk about the technology.

Officers with Rentech are not able to comment on the Natchez project for several weeks. The company is in a &8220;quiet period&8221; because of the offering of shares on April 13. &8220;We priced a 100-million-dollar common stock and convertible senior notes due to close on April 18,&8221; a company spokesman said. &8220;We cannot comment for a couple of weeks.&8221;

According to an unofficial Internet report on the Thursday meeting, shareholders approved the purchase of Royster-Clark Nitrogen Inc., which owns a nitrogen fertilizer plant in East Dubuque, Ill.

That plant will be converted into a coal-to-liquid plant similar to the plant proposed for Natchez &8212; a $1-billion project.

The Natchez plant is at least a year away from any construction start and has a projected completion date of 2011. The company has hired a project engineer and is ready to begin engineering and design work, said Woody Allen, chairman of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority.

The plant will employ about 200 people to produce the alternative fuel, a clear liquid that can be stored in wax form for at least eight years and is considered a boon to any potential energy shortage such as in the case of a disaster.