Wilmington, NC – Just north of historic downtown Wilmington, a small branch of the Cape Fear River breaks away. That Northeast Cape Fear skirts along a stretch of land that once hummed with the production of cement. And for good reason:
"The limestone was here."
Bob Odom's the general manager of Carolinas Cement Company, a subsidiary of Titan America and the company that will run the proposed Castle Hayne plant. He says there are many reasons why this patch of nearly 1900 acres is perfect for cement production.
"The transportation's good, the power grid is good, the roads, the barge - which we're not really going to use that much. But it's in an ideal location, again it's the raw materials that's why it was picked."
For cement the raw materials are primarily limestone. If you look at a map of cement plants, all of them sit on top of limestone deposits. There are three plants just outside Charleston, South Carolina and none in North Carolina. Even though the US Geological Survey ranks North Carolina near the top ten in cement consumption. Hendrik van Oss is a cement commodities specialist with the USGS.
"So it's actually a fairly strong consumption level for its population. That has been largely due to strong housing construction the state has had until very recently."
North Carolina's population boom and the growing appetite for cement that comes with it caught the attention of Titan America. The company has owned the land in Castle Hayne since 1992, and it didn't take Titan America long to figure out that North Carolina's hunger for cement was being satisfied from out-of-state sources. The plant's general manager Bob Odom.
"So all of that came into play when we looked at this and said, okay, where are the growth areas, where's the population, where can we be successful. We own the land, it's right on top of a limestone pit, let's go ahead and build a plant.'"
Odom says he expects construction to start next year with the plant and limestone quarry up and running in 2012. Economic analysis paid for by the plant, found the construction phase will pour 190-million dollars into the economy, creating 1700 jobs. Carolina's Cement Company's Odom scales that number down to around 800 construction jobs. But jobs are jobs and Odom says every day someone knocks on his door looking for one.
"We got a lady in here right now, filling out an application. She just left?"
"What was she looking for?"
"Any type of work, any type of work. She said I need a job today. I said I can't do that for you, I said please fill out an application, here's my card, we'll get back to you. We get people calling every day looking for work, skilled and unskilled."
When Carolinas Cement Company is ready to hire, there will be some openings for blue collar workers. Odom says those jobs will be paid hourly and done mainly down in the quarry. The company will fill the rest of its positions with skilled, white collar workers who have degrees in Chemistry, Engineering, Business and Accounting.
"This is not just showing up and go to work. They have to know exactly what they're doing in that cement plant. Most of the cement plant is fully automated."
In all, the company says it will hire 160 workers. Once the plant is up and running, it's expected to add millions of dollars a year into the economy. UNC-Greensboro economics professor Andrew Brod is a consultant for Carolinas Cement Company. He says the economic boost includes household and business items purchased by cement plant employees.
"They have to have paperclips, they have to have uniforms, they have to have machinery, they have to have tires for the trucks, they buy the things that all sorts of businesses buy."
Brod says he also factored in groceries, hair cuts and other things plant employees would buy locally. And calculates all of that business and personal spending will generate between $120 to $130-million a year. In comparison, the Wilmington Film Commission shies away from factoring in those groceries and hair cuts and only looks at the industry's direct contribution. And in 2007, the movie industry injected $100-million into the local economy. Brod says a healthy economy is a diverse one.
"You have to look at an economy as an ecosystem and there are a variety of different kinds of ventures that fit. And to say that we're only going to be one thing is not exactly the best recipe for a broad-based, vibrant local economy."
UNCW Management professor Craig Galbreath says area leaders need to craft a vision of the region's quality of life, and then recruit companies that fit that vision. He says if a company doesn't align with the vision, then it could disrupt the local economy.
"Which means that the location of a particular type of plant, particularly low-technology polluting sort of plants, will discourage residents from moving into the area. So actually there may be a decrease in tax revenues. There may be a decrease in rental revenues because people don't want to live by a plant."
Galbreath points to Pittsburgh and San Diego as cities that have turned away from heavy industry and moved toward cleaner, knowledge based economies. There's an entire movement attached to this migration, it's called The City Beautiful and Galbreath says Wilmington has the potential to cash in on this concept.
"Wilmington I believe is on the cusp, we have the location to the beach, we have the historical community, we have many of those characteristics."
Galbreath says the Carolina's Cement plant won't push Wilmington off the cusp, but it won't exactly push it closer to becoming a City Beautiful. Galbreath wants the county to do more analysis to be sure the cement plant will help and not hurt the economy.
But Carolina's Cement Company consultant Andrew Brod says the reality of the situation is that there's a company here, now ready to invest in the region and bring jobs during a time when they are most needed.
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