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Editorial: Welcome US Methanol

From The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Daily Mail page:

A funny thing is happening here in the Kanawha Valley. A chemical manufacturing company is disassembling a plant at a foreign location and moving it here.

It’s the reverse of a process that began in our area, then known as “Chemical Valley,” in the late 1970s. At the time, many of our region’s chemical plants started to shut down or reduce operations and moved to other locales along the U.S. Gulf Coast and in other countries.

As the Gazette-Mail’s Max Garland reported Thursday, chemical manufacturing startup US Methanol broke ground Wednesday for its Liberty One methanol plant in Institute. Company representatives and state and local officials touted the event as a sign of economic advancement in West Virginia.

And they are right. US Methanol’s relocation of the existing plant from Brazil to Institute is very much a sign of better times ahead and possible rebirth of the chemical industry in the same Valley into which it was born more than a century ago.

And, US Methanol is locating the plant here for many of the same reasons that the petro-chemical industry located in the Kanawha Valley 100 years ago: access to abundant natural resources — namely natural gas — access to river, rail and highway transportation, and access to a skilled and ready workforce.

US Methanol moved its base to Charleston after being founded in California in 2014. The plant’s re-construction here creates approximately 300 temporary construction jobs, Garland reported. Most of the workers hired will be within a 200-mile radius of Institute.

US Methanol expects production to start in mid-2018 and says the plant, located at the Dow Chemical Facility, will have the capacity to produce approximately 200,000 metric tons of methanol per year. The plant will create approximately 50 permanent jobs,

Methanol is obtained from natural gas and is used in the production of fuel, LED and LCD screens, pharmaceuticals and more.

“Methanol is used in all sorts of fancy technology, like silicone and gasoline,” US Methanol CEO Frank Bakker said during Wednesday’s groundbreaking event. “Everyone uses it in their daily lives.”

US Methanol’s relationship with West Virginia is expected to expand beyond the Institute plant. Bakker said the company also will relocate a Slovenia methanol plant to the Mountain State. That location has yet to be determined.

The relocation of the Institute plant and the next one to West Virginia — and the jobs and economic boost they will provide — is in response to the huge natural gas reserves in the area, centered around the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

In a July Daily Mail Opinion column, the Chemical Alliance Zone’s Kevin DiGregorio talked about the region’s shale opportunity.

“The shale boom is indeed more of a marathon than a sprint,” DiGregorio wrote. “But even then it’s not just a really long race. Instead, it’s a steeplechase marathon full of pits and hurdles that we must — and will — overcome.”

US Methanol’s construction here locally is an early, successful hurdle in the region’s long race to better compete in the global economy. Here’s hoping that many more pits and hurdles are successfully overcome in the coming years.

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