Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward has the green light to begin talks with a Washington State-based firm, to set up shop at the Port of Pensacola.
Incoa Performance Minerals of Walla Walla is a mining, manufacturing and logistics company, offering a full lineup of calcium carbonate products. The firm wants to move into Warehouses nine and 10 at the Port, and acquire six and a half acres of adjacent land for development.
“[Calcium carbonate] is used in many different things; it’s used in plastics, it’s used in glass,” said Chief Executive Officer Steve Creamer. “Rubber – your tires calcium carbonate. It’s basically sold as a high-end material.”
Creamer says they went through a list of ports on the Eastern Seaboard and Caribbean for possible locations, paring it down to six facilities.
“We fell in love quite honestly with Pensacola; we think you have a beautiful city,” said Creamer. “Our due diligence shows [a] great work ethic, great people and certainly a beautiful community which we would love to become part of. We have a long history of being involved with communities we work with.”
Speaking at last week’s Council meeting, Creamer said the material would be mined in the Dominican Republic and brought by ship to the Port. The warehouses would be developed into a high-tech production area, milling the calcium carbonate into grains of about one micron in size.
“To give you an example, Portland cement [manufactured from limestone and clay and that hardens under water] is about 44 microns in size [per grain],” says Creamer. “We would be producing this material down to the one-micron size – 44 times finer than Portland cement.”
There’s no time frame for the beginning and end of the city’s negotiations with Incoa. Mayor Ashton Hayward says the number one job is making sure due diligence is done.
“Look at their track record on other [limited liability corporations] that they’ve had and businesses that they’ve owned; the impact on the communities that they’ve worked in, how that experience has been for the community,” said Hayward. “One of the number-one things is obviously if they have the financial capabilities to do what they say they’re going to do.”
If everything checks out, Incoa would be a badly-needed shot in the arm for the Port, which has been struggling the past few years. Many believe it would put to rest the idea that no firms are interested in using the facility.
“Our port had some really good success in the beginning; we want to make sure that whatever we do bring, we do it correctly,” Hayward said. “And I think data is very important on the direction of the community, what they want to see our port become.”
While the City Council’s vote was unanimous for Hayward to begin talks with Incoa, not all of the members are totally sold on the project. That includes Larry B. Johnson.
“We do appreciate [Incoa] bringing us possibly opportunities, but I think they have to be properly vetted,” said Johnson. “I just want to make sure that [if] we sign a 20-year lease for downtown Pensacola that it’s a good fit. And I want to do our due diligence; I just don’t think we’ve done that yet.”
The vote authorizing the negotiation, says Johnson, was the result of removing the word “execute” from the proposal. That means any agreement negotiated would have to be approved by the City Council before implementation. Johnson adds that Hayward likely will hold a town hall meeting on the issue.
“I don’t think we followed procedure on how to do long-term leases at the Port,” Johnson said. “I believe there is a requirement that we have these town hall meetings and get the public’s input. That was another thing that just hasn’t happened, and we’re moving way, way too fast on this deal.”
After the Council meeting, Johnson says he spoke briefly with Steve Creamer, who told him that there was another port in the running for the Incoa facility.
“And I said, ‘well, maybe just go to that port,’” Johnson said. “He very quickly said, ‘no, we want to come to Pensacola.’ That kind of was a concern also, because I wondered is this deal too sweet? I’m not saying kill the deal; but I think that we owe it to the taxpayers to take a deeper look at this.”
According to Florida West – the economic development alliance serving the Panhandle – Incoa’s proposed $100 million investment would create about 80 jobs with a five million dollar annual payroll. The average salary would be about $65,000 per year.
Florida West CEO Scott Luth says Incoa could replace an original strategy for Pensacola, to lure major firms in the oil and gas industry to the Port – an approach that was gutted by downturns in the industry.
“We had a number of companies that had shown interest, and obviously that did not work out,” Luth said. “Since then, we’ve been trying to figure out what is the next opportunity for the Port. [Incoa] has come along, and we think it’s a great company to use the existing assets that are on the Port.”
Meanwhile, Incoa’s plan to locate at the Port is being studied by the California-based research firm Moffett and Nichol, with a report due out in the fall.
While the raw material would be delivered by sea, the finished product would depart in trucks – about a half-dozen per day, according to company officials – and drive through downtown Pensacola. That is the gist of the opposition to the plan by many residents.