Industrial year in review: 2014 saw growth, setbacks
NATCHEZ — The major stories of Adams County’s industries in 2014 included the steady expansion of existing businesses and at least one major project that won’t come to be.
Great River Industries
Great River Industries began the year as Enersteel, but in July the Memphis-based company announced it would become a Natchez-based company as GRI acquired the Moran Road welding facility and expanded its operations.
With the announcement of a 25-job expansion, GRI company officials said they would relocate the company’s white-collar workforce to Natchez.
“With the white-collar workers, we’re really proud that three of them were displaced Natchezians that we were able to hire and bring back home,” GRI Vice President Aaron Shermer said in November.
The company had 150 employees at the time of the announcement, and has since met the hiring goal.
Construction of the $4 million corporate investment involved in expanding the 100,000 square-foot facility by 12,000 square-feet is currently under way, and additional heavy equipment to expand the company’s tank head press operations has been ordered. The company is also expanding into pipe manufacturing.
“This can be seen as a continued swell in a business wave for us,” Shermer said in July. “We want the people of Natchez to know this wave is not flattening out.”
GRI’s work includes large-scale, specialty engineering, fabrication and construction services to customers in the oil and gas, power generation, liquefied natural gas, petro-chemical and other industries.
Pulp recycling operations at von Drehle’s Majorca Road facility continued this year, keeping pace with the company’s operations since it purchased the shuttered Mississippi River Pulp facility in early 2013.
In June, the company announced it had placed an order for a Metso paper machine, which will enable them to manufacture paper using conventional and textured methods with virgin or recycled fibers.
The installation of the machine is meant to support a projected 100 new jobs.
“We are excited and look forward to a long and successful relationship in Natchez,” von Drehle Chief Executive Officer Randy Bergman said in June.
The company began doing preliminary site work for construction to support the paper machine installation in early November, and site manager Joe Pankratz said the machine should be ready for delivery in May and parts should start arriving in Natchez in June.
Von Drehle specializes in what it characterizes as “away from home” paper tissue and towel products.
Houston-based Halcón announced in June plans to shop oil from nearby wells in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale (TMS) through an oil-handling terminal at the Natchez-Adams County Port.
The company signed a one-year option with Adams County for 50-acres of the former International Paper site shortly after signing an option for 4 additional acres in the port area.
The development is meant to support a $6 million investment and 25 jobs.
“This is a proactive move to position us for the future,” Halcón spokesperson Kelly Weber said at the time of the announcement.
But what that positioning will mean for the future will be answered in 2015. When oil prices dropped below $75 a barrel in November — domestic oil is currently approximately $55 a barrel — Halcón announced it would be scaling back TMS operations.
“I’m going to do my darndest to make sure people understand we’re highly confident and we like the play,” Halcón Chief Executive Officer Floyd Wilson during an earnings conference call in November.
“There is a lot of oil there, but it’s an early-stage development project…However, it is currently a relatively high-cost play and with currently low crude prices, we will not be devoting a significant portion of our resources to the TMS in the near term.”
Wilson said future investment in the area would depend on well development costs.
“If we hit our model up … over in the TMS and get costs down, those wells will compete with (nearly) everything else we have,” he said.
The biggest industrial bust in 2014 for the Miss-Lou was KiOR.
After announcing big plans for a cellulostic fuel production facility on the former Belwood Country Club in mid-2012, the company finished construction on and started production in a similar facility in Columbus.
The Natchez plans were projected to create 320 direct and indirect jobs, but were beholden to success in Columbus, and as production there cranked up the facility was plagued with technical issues.
After restructuring construction plans and making Natchez it’s No. 3 instead of No. 2 planned full-scale facility, the company changed plans again and announced in January it would suspend operations in Columbus and focus on fixing the technical issues there before moving forward.
As the company burned through cash, the efforts to fix the plant were suspended in March. Layoffs followed in June and the company missed its option payment to Adams County for the Belwood property in August.
After missing a number of other key debt payments — including to the State of Mississippi — the company declared bankruptcy in November, though its Columbus facility was excluded from the proceedings as it seeks to sell the plant.
KiOR has since been delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange, and Adams County officials have begun marketing the Belwood property to other potential clients.
Adams County Supervisor Mike Lazarus said the board of supervisors has been working with Natchez Inc. to fill the Belwood property.
“I wish I could talk about it, but right now I can’t,” he said. “When people find out what is going to happen there, it is good.
Economic development officials said Elevance has had a quiet year in the port area doing site preparation and light construction in advance of its major construction project, which is set to start in early 2015.
When completed, Elevance’s chemical biorefinery is expected to create 165 permanent jobs.
Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said in late November the construction cycle at Elevance should take 14-18 months.
Genesis Energy likewise continued to increase its business, bringing in its first unit trains — those in excess of 100 cars — during 2014.
Genesis’ Natchez operation handles petroleum products through barge and rail transportation.
Editor’s note: The story as originally published incorrectly identified von Drehle CEO Randy Bergman. We regret the error and are happy to set the record straight.
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