Time Free Press
By Mike Pare
Bradley County manufacturer Wacker, which earlier this year opened a $2.5 billion polysilicon plant, on Wednesday committed to building another factory next door.
The German company will invest $150 million in the new plant that will turn a byproduct of its polysilicon factory into pyrogenic silica, a viscosity-adjusting agent in coatings, printing inks and adhesives, officials said.
The company plans to hire 50 more people, joining the 650 who work at its Charleston polysilicon plant. Wacker officials said construction on the second factory will start early in 2017 with completion in the first half of 2019.
“It’s a nice Christmas present for 2017,” said Gary Farlow, who heads the Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
In April at the opening of the Wacker facility, company Chief Executive Rudolf Staudigl called another factory “the next logical step.” The German-based chemical giant makes the raw material used in solar power panels at its Charleston plant, which is Tennessee’s biggest-ever single business investment.
Polysilicon production yields tetrachlorosilane, which either is converted and fed back into the production loop or processed into pyrogenic silica, which also serves as a flow aid in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical and food-processing industries.
“The additional capacities strengthen our market position as a leading global producer of pyrogenic silica and help us to meet our customers’ growing demand,” Staudigl said in a statement.
The new factory, integrated with Wacker’s polysilicon plant, will have an annual capacity of 13,000 metric tons. Wacker said reprocessing of tetrachlorosilane avoids the need to dispose of waste products and enhances the production efficiency.
Wacker’s HDK brand of pyrogenic silica already is made in the company’s plants in Burghausen and Nunchritz, Germany, and in Zhangjiagang, China. The Munich-based chemical company said it’s the world’s third-largest manufacturer in that sector.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said that while on a business recruitment trip to Germany last month, he visited with several members of Wacker’s leadership.
“I look forward to Wacker’s continued growth in Bradley County,” he said.
Randy Boyd, who heads the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said officials are “proud to see that Wacker’s continued confidence in the state’s highly-skilled workforce and dedication to innovation has resulted in expanding its Tennessee footprint.”
Farlow said Wacker is using only a third of its 550-acre tract located off Lauderdale Memorial Highway.
“They’ve always said there was more to come,” he said, adding that Wacker jobs are among the higher-paying in the county.
Farlow said the county is providing property tax incentives for the expansion as part of a 25-year abatement originally granted the company.
“When they did the first project, it did have an incentive package that includes anything that happens” on the site during the 25-year period, he said. “The idea was to induce them to invest sooner rather than later.”
Farlow said the Wacker expansion also may qualify for state training and infrastructure incentives.
A report by the Beacon Center of Tennessee has estimated that Wacker is receiving more than $200 million of tax breaks and assistance.
Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis said officials have “a very positive relationship” with Wacker going back to 2005 when the company first started looking at the county.
“We’re very happy to see this new investment,” he said.
Ross Tarver, chairman of the Bradley/Cleveland Industrial Development Board, said Wacker told county officials years ago that the $2.5 billion investment was the beginning of a long-term growth plan.
Bill Toth, Wacker Chemical Co.’s director of corporate communications, said he expected that hiring will start for the new plant in 2017 and it will fill as many as the jobs as it can from the region.
Toth said the company continues to work with the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College, where students receive training in the field.
Wacker spokeswoman Amanda Plecas said the company is also still hiring for some positions at the factory but it’s at about 650.