Lady Luck smiles on Rentech, city

Published 11:36 pm Tuesday, October 23, 2007

If the Rentech Natchez plans needed a covert operations code name it would be “Project Lucky.”

In fact, Rentech director of project development Joe Regnery routinely calls it just that.

Since the company started delving into the Natchez project more than three years ago, every bend in the road has brought good news, Regnery said Tuesday.

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He’s in town this week first for Monday night’s Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce dinner, and today for a visit with the Rotary Club.

The goal today will be to tell local businessmen and women just what makes Natchez so dang lucky.

It was November 2005 when Rentech became a publicly known word in Natchez.

In April 2006 Gov. Haley Barbour signed a bill appropriating $15 million in state funds to the Rentech project.

It was more than luck when local leaders worked hard lobbying for the bill, and rightly convinced the Legislature that Mississippi needed Rentech, but the state funding contributed to Regnery’s “Project Lucky” title.

In February 2007, Rentech discovered that they might be better suited at the International Paper site, instead of on the former Belwood Country Club site they’d been planning to occupy.

Again, economic development leaders proposed the idea to Rentech after researching it and working out the details. It wasn’t just blind luck, but it was lucky for Rentech.

The IP site is bigger and better accommodates a company that might want to expand in the future.

And in June of this year, Rentech signed a deal with Denbury Resources, Inc., — a company locating on U.S. 84 — to sell carbon dioxide emissions produced by their coke-to-chemicals and coke-to-fuel processes.

Essentially, someone wants Rentech’s trash, and they’ll pay them for it and use it to make money themselves, further fueling the local economy.

It’s a win-win, Regnery said. And it’s lucky.

Or as Rentech CEO Hunt Ramsbottom said on a visit to Natchez in June, it’s “picture perfect.”

And boy are these Rentech guys excited about their plans. They are confident construction will start in 2009 and end in 2011. And they are sure the plant will be operational in 2012.

To those of us not in the know, it appeared Rentech may have hit a stumbling block about a month ago when they asked the county for an extension on the time set for them to purchase the IP land.

Why wait, we asked?

But the Rentech higher-ups say it was actually delays at their East Dubuque, Iowa, project that threw a kink into their fundraising plans. They want to raise money by killing two birds with one stone, so delays in Iowa meant they’d prefer to wait in Natchez, Regnery has said.

But the company will sign to buy the IP land by April 1, Regnery said.

And he doesn’t want anyone in Natchez to doubt that.

Natchez — with a river, pipelines and a port — is too perfect, too lucky, for Rentech to pass up.

“As long as there is a need for chemicals and fuel in the U.S. it’s a perfect location,” Regnery said.

Those needs will be ever present, and Natchez will be on the forefront of industries of Rentech’s kind.

In layman’s terms, they’ll use petroleum coke to make the chemicals that will go into things like laundry detergent and fuels that will power military jets.

I tend to be a believe-it-when-you-see it person. And other than repeated visits to Natchez and a few walks around the site, the Rentech officials haven’t shown us much yet.

But sometimes big things require a little faith. And a little luck.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or