Oil product makers still eye Vicksburg, port exec says

Published 10:45 am Thursday, May 22, 2014

The petrochemical industry isn’t finished looking at Vicksburg and Warren County to locate new operations, port director Wayne Mansfield said Wednesday.

One of two companies sizing up the area for expansion is in the industry, one that is experiencing a reverse of labor and management trends in place for more than a generation, Mansfield told the Vicksburg Lions Club.

“We’ve been meeting with another site selection entity in the world of petrochemical products,” he said. “We have two prospects, one at Ceres and another for a site we haven’t determined yet.”

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Negotiation between companies and local governments is usually kept out of public view, particularly when state money for easing a move from somewhere else is at stake. Nonetheless, Mansfield said the dynamics for energy companies like CAM2, which moved from Colorado to the Port of Vicksburg last week, and ISA TanTec, which operates plants in China and Vietnam but hopes to open its first U.S. leather tannery at Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex next year, is shifting back to having American plants.

“Labor costs (overseas) have finally caught up to the labor costs here,” he said. “Transportation costs keep going up. Their final market is the United States. The biggest thing that separates it is the cost of energy, which is sometimes triple that of here. And infrastructure in those countries is nowhere near the standard of ours.”

On Monday, Warren County supervisors took no public comment on $3.9 million on a mix of federal block grant funds and loans to help TanTec purchase the former Calsonic building at Ceres and build a wastewater treatment facility. The Mississippi Development Authority is also kicking in $750,000 for improvements to the building.

The building is valued at $7.2 million by most appraisers. Mansfield told supervisors the $2 million deal agreed-upon by the county and state “is a pretty good deal” for the company. The port commission will pay the consulting costs for ancillary services needed to improve the building, in keeping with rules governing the grant. The loan to purchase the building will be paid back over 15 years.

Tyson Foods, which operates a chicken products facility at Ceres, is a major supplier for TanTec on the beef side of its operation and was a major player in landing the company for Mississippi — and away from Louisiana and Texas, Mansfield said.

Mansfield said he hopes to complete a needs assessment with the nonprofit Mississippi Energy Institute to fortify Vicksburg’s chances of landing more industries. He told club members the area needed to take better advantage of its access to the Mississippi River, railroads and Interstate 20, citing the port being at full capacity as being a challenge to continued development.