Ashland Specialty Chemical may not be a common name in many households, but the products the company’s Texas City chemical plant manufactures make their way into most people’s everyday lives.
Claritin, Aleve, Centrum, Jet Dry, Miller High Life and Heineken are just some of the brand name products that in some way have a direct connection to Ashland’s Texas City plant.
And it’s because of a growing consumer demand — especially within the pharmaceutical, beer and wine industries — that Ashland is investing more than $30 million over the next two years to expand its plant and increase production of its most marketable products.
The expansion at Ashland actually started in 2005 when Ashland (then ISP) saw increased demand for polyvinylpolypyrrolidone — or PVPP — which is used in the creation of drug tablets as well as to prevent haze from forming in beer and wine containers. The products made at the Texas City site also are used in hair products and in the making of computer chips and lithium batteries.
“We have the capability to make that product in our Calvert City, Ky., plant, as we have for many, many years,” said Jay Bizarro, director for Ashland’s North America operations, which includes the Texas City facility. “The business has been growing so we needed to make expansion (plans).”
That first expansion included the construction of a $35 million, six-story, 200,000-square-foot PVPP manufacturing plant.
“The good news is that it has been achieving its growth target, such that the company has decided that it needed additional capacity,” Bizarro said.
In December 2012 Ashland began construction on a $24 million sister-facility next door to the unit built in 2005. Bizarro said when the 2005 expansion project was done, plans always included the ability to build a second facility in Texas City. So land next to the 2005 expansion was set aside for the new facility, which should go online in 2014.
“We envisioned a twin at some point, so here it is,” Bizarro said. “Some of the things we put in (the initial expansion) have performed very well, so we actually have been able to utilize some of the equipment and infrastructure that’s in the existing building with (the new one) as well — that gives us some savings. So there are some good economies to doing it this way.”
Like the 2005 expansion, the new facility will include key clean rooms to ensure product integrity.
That isn’t the only expansion project under way.
The company is preparing for a $6 million expansion of its production of vinylpyrrolidone — called VP — the monomer used to make PVPP as well as other products manufactured at the plant.
The new VP unit includes updated technology that should enhance the plant’s ability to produce even more of its key chemical.
“It’s the key product we make,” Bizarro said. “If you don’t have VP in this plant, you’re not making much stuff.”
That unit is set to come online in January 2014.
The new projects mean new jobs. In addition to the 100 construction jobs over the nine-month build-out, the plant will hire five new workers to operate the two new units, Bizarro said.
Bizarro credits the company’s vision as well as a pro-business environment at both the city and county level to helping make the expansion projects possible in Texas City, instead of at another Ashland site. Tax abetments helped encourage company officials to pick Texas City.
If things go as Bizarro hopes, there’s more on the horizon. He is working on proposals for two other expansion projects that he hopes to bring to the Texas City site within the next couple of years.