KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. — Local and state officials joined representatives of US Methanol in a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a new chemical plant in Institute.
US Methanol expects it will open its first American facility, Liberty One, in mid-2018, which will be capable of producing 200,000 metric tons of methanol a year on the 11-acre site. Once the facility is completed, approximately 50 people will be hired on a permanent basis.
Company board of directors member Richard Wolfli said US Methanol looked throughout the northeastern United States to start the company, and felt the Charleston-area provided the best chance for success.
“The people are here extremely educated, the workers are extremely motivated, the economic conditions for our project are wonderful here, the customers are nearby,” he said. “We see us being members of the community for decades and decades to come.”
Methanol is a chemical made by combining natural gas with steam and pressure, and can be found in LED and LCD screens and recyclable plastic bottles.
Liberty One will consist of parts of a deconstructed methanol production plant from Rio De Janerio.
“It’s not a tremendous technical challenge to move a facility,” Wolfli said. “We’re going to upgrade the facility with all of the newest technology and all the new safety features and instrumentation in the process, so we’re going to virtually have a brand new facility here in West Virginia.”
Construction of the plant will result in the hiring of 300 temporary construction jobs.
The West Virginia Economic Development Authority approved a $10 million loan in May in developing the site for use.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said the county commission issued the building permit for the facility last week.
“Did anyone ever dream we would see plants return to the Institute area?” he asked. “All we’ve seen in our lifetime is plants being torn down (and) manufacturing jobs being lost. Now, we’re bringing them back. All the things that people said could never happen are happening here in Kanawha County, West Virginia.”
During an address at the groundbreaking, Carper described US Methanol as a “good corporate citizen,” adding the company has told the county commission it wants to help the government body.
Carper was then asked if he was referring to redeveloping Shawnee Park into a multi-sports complex, a project the commission has discussed since April and approved at a meeting Tuesday morning.
“That’s close. Very close,” he said.
The commission is looking to reconfigure the Dunbar site to make it capable of hosting local and regional youth sports tournaments. The project has an estimated price tag of $15 million, and the commission has already approved selling $10 million in bonds to fund construction.
West Virginia Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said a sign that West Virginia’s economic health has improved.
“This is one of a whole series of announcements that we have, not limited to the petrochemical industry but certainly one of them,” he said. “We feel like West Virginia’s economy is on the rebound, we felt like we’ve bottomed out and we feel like we’re coming back.”
Thrasher said he felt there will be significant announcements regarding new jobs over the next three months, adding an announcement on the automotive industry is expected within the next 30 days.
Wolfli said he expects US Methanol’s relationship will grow and could include a second facility in West Virginia.