China invests in Louisiana with new world-class methanol plant in Vacherie

VACHERIE, LA (WVUE) - Amidst a sugarcane field on the banks of the Mississippi in Vacherie next to St. James High School, Yuhuang Chemical Inc. plans to take its first step as a major global player in the petrochemical industry.

"It is why I'm standing here, to launch this exciting project for our company," said Yuhuang Chemical Inc. CEO Charlie Yao at a press conference at Oak Ally Plantation in Vacherie on Thursday.

Governor Bobby Jindal says the 3-phase project to build a world-class methanol plant will create more than 2,000 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent careers.

"Not only is it a $1.85 billion investment, they're going to be creating 400 new direct jobs across all 3 phases. The average salary for these direct jobs will be $85,000 per year even before benefits," Jindal said.

Jindal said the project marks the first significant direct investment from China to Louisiana, and it's a partnership Michael Hecht of GNO Inc. said should not be underestimated.

"We know about China, the biggest market in the world. It also has huge reserves of dollars they have to invest and huge demands from the growing domestic market and growing middle class. The fact that we're now connecting to China is incredibly exciting," said Hecht.

Hecht said certain capabilities make the river parishes a prime location for global petrochemical companies, such as the Port of South Louisiana, which the American Association of Port Authorities says is the leading energy transfer port in the U.S., and the miles of pipelines delivering natural gas from states like Texas and Pennsylvania.

"What people don't understand about natural gas and why it's so important is that it does two things. For some plants like Norco, it actually fuels the plant. It's actually the energy source. But for things like methanol, methanol is made from natural gas. So, it's actually the feed stock," said Hecht.

The port and the natural gas are assets Yao said he couldn't pass up, and he said other Chinese companies will likely be attracted to as well.

"You are making Louisiana one of the most competitive states in the US and in the global platforms," said Yao.

"I think it shows Louisiana can compete not only with other states but with other countries for significant capital investment for good paying jobs," said Jindal.

The plant's groundbreaking is scheduled for July 2015, and operations are scheduled to begin in 2018.

Yao said the plant will create 5,000 metric tons of methanol a day and 1.7 million metric tons of methanol a year.

The St. James Parish President Timothy Roussel said two and a half years ago, St. James had an unemployment rate of 10.7 percent. Now, with incoming projects such as this one, he said the parish unemployment rate is down to 5.8 percent.

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