Natchez Now group tours economic development projects
Published 9:38 am Monday, October 2, 2023
NATCHEZ — About 30 Natchez Now members and Natchez Inc. staffers boarded a bus and toured new and proposed economic development sites in the Miss-Lou on Monday night.
Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said that organization is currently working with an “extremely heavy portfolio” made up of 16 active clients with projects worth $6 billion.
“Three of those projects are worth is worth $2.5 billion and two others are worth $1 billion each, so that eats up a lot of that $6 billion. That still leaves us with 13 clients with combined projects, ranging from the critical minerals space all the way to green tea, which are worth a combined $1.5 billion,” Russ said.
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Loss Prevention Services LLC
First stop on the bus tour was to Loss Prevention Services LLC, which announced in September 2020 it was moving its headquarters to Natchez, making an almost $3 million investment here and planned to create 200 jobs.
Three years later, the company’s renovation and expansion of the former Regions Bank Building at the corner of Franklin and Pearl streets is complete, and it has surpassed the 200 jobs promised.
T.J. Baggett, chief operating officer at Loss Prevention Services LLC, greeted Natchez Now members and told them of the continued expansion of the company and need for more space.
“We have exactly two vacant desks in this building,” she said.
“You may remember, the third floor of this building was not developed. It is now, and we are at full capacity here,” Baggett said.
The company has purchased The Prentiss Club at the corner of Pearl and Jefferson streets and plans to develop its upper floor into two 2,000-square foot condominiums, which will be used for visiting staffers and clients. The remainder of that building will be converted to much-needed additional office space, Baggett said.
“We continue to automate, not to reduce staff but to continue to service our clients at the highest levels,” she said.
Syrah Resources, Vidalia, Louisiana
Glen Lynagh, project director, and Don Duga, senior human resources manager, toured the group through its hugely expanded facility in Vidalia.
The facility is approximately 75 percent through a $230 million expansion project and expects to refine its first load of graphite in November of this year, Lynagh said.
Contractors and staff have been working around the clock with lighting to complete construction at the facility.
Syrah Vidalia will use strong acids and heat to remove impurities from graphite, which will be mined at the company’s mines in Mozambique, South Africa.
The graphite will be shipped to New Orleans from Mozambique and is them trucked to the plant in Vidalia.
“When Vidalia finishes its port project, we intend to use barges to get the graphite here,” Lynagh said.
The graphite being mined by Syrah is plentiful and about 80 percent recoverable.
“Syrah owns the mines entirely and has about 200 years worth of resource,” he said.
“We will take the graphite, leach all the impurities out with strong acids and refine it into active graphite that goes into lithium ion and other lithium batteries for vehicles,” Lynaugh said.
He said graphite sells from $6,000 to $8,000 per ton and the plant expects to produce 11,000 tons per year.
Duga said right now Syrah employs a staff of 94 people and expects to increase to 106 by the end of November. Most hourly employees make wages of $30 per hour with starting salaries for the less experienced workers are $20 per hour.
The company is contemplating a third phase of expansion, which would require an investment of another $360 million and, when complete, would add another 110 workers.
In December 2022, Marcal Paper acquired Von Drehl Corp., which operated in the former Diamond International plant here at 30 Majorca Road for more than a decade.
Kevin Miers, converting operations manager at the plant, said the Natchez operation produces about 120 tons of paper for paper towels and tissue daily.
The parent rolls, created in Natchez, are 9 foot wide and weigh about 4,000 pounds.
“About 40 tons are converted into finished products in Natchez and the other 80 tons are shipped off to other Marcal converting facilities around the country,” he said.
The company employs about 100 workers.
For several years, Velosys has had an option to purchase land from Adams County on which it hopes to construct a jet biofuels plant.
Russ said the company has raised a substantial amount of private investment capital, but has more to raise.
“Adams County is protected on both sides of the deal,” Russ said. “The county has received about $1.5 million in options for the purchase of the land. The county hasn’t had to spend any money on this project. The completion of the Bellwood levee at the site is being paid for by state funds. If for some reason the project does not advance, the county will own the best piece of property on the river.”
Russ told the group construction is almost complete on the 20,000 square foot headquarters facility in Natchez on U.S. 61 South.
“They expect to move in within the next couple of months,” he said.
The family-run trucking business has grown to be the largest flatbed carrier in the state and operates more than 850 trucks throughout the country.