That huge building on I-10 isn’t Home Depot, but it does mean more jobs and tax revenue

Drivers in Harrison County may think the orange stripe on the huge building along Interstate 10 makes it part of a Home Depot. It’s not, and it’s just half of the investment a Coast company is making that will contribute jobs and add tax revenue to local schools.

More than five football fields could fit inside the new $12 million distribution center at The Chemours Company. The 300,000-square-feet warehouse plus a $13 million production facility under construction nearby represent a $25 million investment by the company that until 3 years ago was DuPont DeLisle.

Chemours already is the largest taxpayer in the Pass Christian School District, and Superintendent Carla Evers said the new buildings are an investment in one of the highest-performing school districts in the state.

The company pays $2.3 million in annual taxes to the school district. Paige Bromen, chief financial officer, said the district anticipates seeing additional tax revenue from this new investment beginning next year.

“They invest heavily in us,” Bromen said. The company also helps the district by providing scholarships, she said, and interacting with students during job fairs.

Chemours isn’t in the city of Pass Christian, Mayor Chipper McDermott said at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting at the distribution center, but the Pass Christian School District extends beyond the city limits and the city benefits from the proximity. The salaries paid to Coast employees are the same as the company pays in Atlanta and other large cities, he said, and almost all employees at the DeLisle plant live in the three Coast counties.

About 1,200 people work at the plant, including new hires for the new facilities, making it one of the largest employers in South Mississippi. About half are contractors.

High-tech operations

To operate the new distribution center with its computerized tracking system, plant manager Mark Smith said Chemours chose a company with warehouse expertise. “They have the experience and the software,” he said.

The distribution center was built on Chemours land just off exit 20 of I-10 by InSite Real Estate, which acquires, develops and operates more than 500 industrial, office and retail projects in 35 states. The Chemours Company leases the warehouse from InSite.

Rain fell outside during Tuesday’s ribbon cutting, yet several speakers remarked how not a leak was seen inside the sprawling new building. Tom Cervenka, senior director of industrial property for InSite Real Estate, said June 2017 was the wettest in 100 years, adding to construction challenges.

“We built this facility over 10 months of construction,” he said, with 170 local construction jobs and zero reportable injuries.

“We were operating out of up to six warehouses,” said Mike Welsh, global operations director of titanium technologies at Chemours. The DeLisle plant is the largest such plant in the world, he said, and 70 percent of the product produced in South Mississippi is shipped to 200 cities in the United States and 400 globally.

DeLisle is the biggest

Smith said the facility produces more than 350,000 tons of titanium dioxide a year under the trade name of Ti-Pure.

“Not a lot of people know we’re the largest producer,” he said. The powder additive goes into products that are white, such as paper, paint and roofs that are more energy efficient, along with children’s outdoor toys to hold their bright colors and make them last longer, he said.

“iPhones are white because of one of the products we make at our plant,” he said.

The Chemours Company that grew out of DuPont is nimble and focused on growth, he said. The new building under construction will produce a titanium dioxide slurry that goes into water-based paints such as Valspar and Sherwin Williams, the largest customer for the plant. Ti-Pure will be pre-dispersed in the paint and sent in liquid form in rail cars and tanker trucks, he said, when construction is complete around the end of the year.

Still true

Bill Lavers, the new executive director of Harrison County Development Authority, did an internet search to learn more about the history of DuPont DeLisle and The Chemours Company. He found construction on the DeLisle site began in 1976.

The history said, “Many factors made Harrison County, Mississippi, attractive, including a high-quality work force, shipping access through the port of Gulfport, a good road network, potential for rail shipments, ample fresh water, attractive construction costs, available utilities and community facilities to attract and hold employees.”

“That was 42 years ago and it’s exactly true today,” he said. Chemours now has railroad access to the site and silos at the Port of Gulfport to store raw materials for shipping.

Chemours reported that 2017 Titanium Technologies segment sales were $3 billion company-wide, a 25 percent increase over 2016 and driven by higher prices and volume.