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WoodFuels plant construction to start later this year, early 2015

A year delay in construction for a wood pellet plant in Sims has led International WoodFuels to increase its planned investment to $90 million and workforce to 60 employees.

Steve Mueller, International WoodFuels’ founder and president, said Tuesday that the delay in construction was due to negotiations with the N.C. State Ports Authority. When the plant’s announcement was made in January 2013, Mueller said the port authority planned to pay for $26 million in construction costs at the Port of Morehead City. International WoodFuels is now paying the cost, which increases its total investment to $116 million.

"It was a big, radical change for us and our investors,” Mueller said.

Mueller said his company was not the cause behind the delay, which occurred because of a restructured agreement with the port authority. The end result is a benefit for Wilson County because a reassessment of available forest byproducts in the Sims area led to a decision to build a larger plant and nearly double the plant’s workforce.

"We are going to build the plant and the delay has been favorable to Sims and Wilson County,” Mueller said.

Initially, the company planned to hire 32 workers. Employees will make, on average, $40,000 a year. Some salaries could be lower and others higher and first, second and third shift jobs will be available. The plant’s annual payroll is expected to be close to $2.4 million.

"I’m about creating jobs,” Mueller said. "My goal is that every job should be sufficient to sustain a family. Our target is to be above the $40,000 range.”

Construction of a new 160,000-square-foot facility is planned on the 38-acre site, where the Canal Chip plant operates at 5821 U.S. 264 Alternate near Sims, as early as October but no later than February and will take about 15 months.

International WoodFuels has already purchased a 28-acre farm next to the plant and plans to close on the 38-acre property around the time when construction starts. Mueller said that the Canal Chip plant, which employs six people, will continue production and also assist in the wood pellet manufacturing process. Canal Chip will become International WoodFuels.

Mueller is in the process of working with Wilson Community College in the development of a training program, through continuing education, that will allow potential employees to be pre-screened and trained for possible employment with International WoodFuels. The WCC program is expected to be available in the spring of 2015.

International WoodFuels will start the hiring process in the summer of 2015, with plans to start production in early 2016. Construction at the Port of Morehead City, which includes two dome storage units, will begin in March or April 2015.

The Wilson County plant will receive its material from forests within a 60-mile radius of the Sims site. International WoodFuels will manufacture wood pellets from a variety of wood waste products that would not otherwise be used. The wood pellets are densified and dried and used as an alternative energy source to coal. Wood pellets are about the diameter size of a pencil.

"We’re converting a lot of residual or waste wood into energy,” he said.

The Wilson County location is prime for the transport of products along the railroad to eastern North Carolina ports, primarily in Morehead City, Mueller said. The plant will produce 1,300 tons of wood pellets a day, which will be transported along the railroad to Morehead City. International WoodFuels plans to export $70 million in wood pellets each year to Europe.

Wood pellets are more expensive than coal but offer a cleaner energy source, with close to an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions. European countries that are now required to reduce pollution from carbon are using more and more of the product as an alternative energy source, Mueller said. The export of wood pellets has increased during the past several years and is anticipated to continue in the future.

Mueller plans to build two more wood pellet production facilities in North Carolina. The Sims plant will be the state’s fourth processing plant. Mueller picked the Sims site because of the existing Canal Chip plant, the easy access to the railroad and the potential workforce.

He plans to hire workers from the Wilson County area and the majority of construction will be handled locally, Mueller said.

"We feel very confident that there is a skilled workforce,” he said.

The plant will generate an additional 60 indirect jobs that will include loggers, truckers, rail and port workers.

International WoodFuels’ investment in North Carolina has led to the company being approved to receive about $1 million in state incentives through the N.C. Department of Commerce and N.C. Department of Transportation. The incentives were approved for infrastructure work to the railroad in Sims, Mueller said. Wilson on the Move, a private group that provides donations to industries in an effort to promote economic and job growth, is also providing $50,000 in incentives, Mueller said. | 265-7818
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Below and Above said...

Some will be below $40,000 and some above?
So will 80% of the employees be making minimum wage while management makes six figures?
Hopefully he means sustain a family without welfare.

Friday, July 04, 2014 at 7:41 AM
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