A planned methanol production facility in Institute took another step in its development Thursday, as the West Virginia Economic Development Authority gave preliminary approval for a $10 million loan to US Methanol to purchase its machinery and equipment.
The EDA approved the motion, which is for a 10-year term, in its monthly board meeting. The plant, known as Liberty One Methanol, is the first the California-based startup will develop. It is expected to create about 350 temporary construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs in the plant, according to US Methanol Chief Commercial Officer Brad Gunn.
Liberty One won’t be built from scratch, Gunn said. Instead, US Methanol is in the middle of disassembling a methanol plant in Brazil and will reconstruct it in the Dow Chemical facility in Institute. It is expected to be up and running by the end of this year or early 2018, Gunn added.
“[The loan] fits our overall strategy to get the plant in operation soon,” Gunn said. “It doesn’t finance the development of the plant itself, but it goes toward the equipment we’ll use. Getting it is a big part of the process.”
Gunn said the plant will produce about 150,000 metric tons of methanol a year. Methanol is obtained from natural gas and has several manufacturing uses. It can be used in the manufacturing process of gasoline, antifreeze, glass screens on smartphones and more.
US Methanol has plans to develop more facilities in West Virginia but hasn’t yet officially decided on any locations, Gunn said.
The EDA also gave preliminary approval for a $1.3 million loan on a 20-year term to the Upshur County Development Authority. It will use the loan to help build the Upshur County Innovation and Knowledge Business Center, in downtown Buckhannon.
The 23,000-square-foot facility will have 1 gigabit internet speeds available to be leased or shared by startups in the area, according to Rob Hinton, director of the Upshur County Development Authority. He said the center will be a key component in development and innovation by young businesses that often have difficulty finding fast internet service in the area.
“This type of space is very common in bigger markets,” he said. “You can come in, rent the office for a month and really begin to grow your business. We’re trying to create infrastructure in the area that helps graduates or people that may leave the state, otherwise.”
The Upshur County Development Authority received a $2.28 million grant through the federal POWER initiative in 2016 for the center’s development. The EDA loan will fulfill the amount necessary to purchase and develop the land, according to David Warner, executive director of the EDA.
Warner updated the EDA board on the status of the loan guarantee program for broadband providers, an aspect of the broadband legislation (House Bill 3093) signed into law in April. He said the EDA is still in the process of working out the finer details of the program and is meeting with the Board of Treasury Investments to discuss options.
Through the program, providers can receive loan guarantees of up to $10 million from the EDA to set up a broadband connection in areas with no existing service. Warner said he expects the Broadband Enhancement Council to frequently work with the EDA and play a significant role in the program.
“With their mapping program, [the council] can tell us if a provider would be going in an underserved or unserved area,” Warner said. “So we’re going to rely on them to tell us if an application meets the requirements of the program before we consider it.”
In other news, the board:
n Gave final approval for a $270,000 loan for a 10-year term to the Benwood-based Leveltek Processing. The company provides services to stretch and flatten metal for manufacturers. The loan, which will be used to purchase and install additional equipment, will be added to the $585,000 loan the EDA approved for the company in October 2016.
n Gave preliminary approval for a $213,800 loan for a 10-year term for Southern Steel Products Co., in Clarksburg. The company, a structural-steel fabrication business, will use the loan to purchase equipment.
n Approved loan insurance totaling $400,000 to Clear Mountain Bank. The bank loaned the newly formed ATI Industries $500,000 to purchase real estate and equipment. The company, which will perform pipe repairs and testing for natural gas companies, will be located in the former Thomas Petroleum building, in Fairmont.