A Little Rock-based company has selected Jefferson County as the site for a proposed $3 billion-plus facility that will turn natural gas into liquid fuel.
Roger Williams, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Energy Security Partners, gave the announcement Tuesday when he spoke to a Little Rock civic club. The project is expected to generate an estimated 2,500 construction jobs and when completed, 225 full time primary jobs paying an average of $40 per hour.
“Roger called, and Caleb [McMahon] and I jumped into a car and went up there,” Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County said. “I looked around the room and I think we were the only two people there from Jefferson County … I think a lot of people were jealous of us. That’s a nice feeling.”
McMahon is the director of Economic Development for the Alliance.
In February, Williams said the company had spent more than $12 million in research on the project, noting that the company would spend 24 months on design preparation and site development.
He told the Little Rock civic club that the final decision to locate in Jefferson County followed the acquisition of an easement which will allow ESP to build a road from the plant to the river, a process Nisbett said “took three years and three trips to Washington.”
White Hall Mayor Noel Foster said the easement is across property owned by the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR).
“They [ESP] had not committed 100 percent but thankfully we were able to get that easement worked out,” Foster said. “It has been a process, and our Congressional delegation and the FDA [Food and Drug Administration, which owns NCTR] really helped out.”
Nisbett said river access is necessary because some of the equipment for the plant will be too heavy to be delivered by rail or trucks.
“It’s going to have to come by barge,” she said.
The project will be financed several ways: through investment funds owned by international governments, infrastructure fund investors and financial institutions. Over the past few years, Williams and others associated with the project have been working to secure financing in places such as New York, Houston and European capitals.
The $100 million necessary to fund initial engineering work should be in place by the end of the year or early next year, Williams said. Energy Security Partners, which was co-founded by Gen. Wesley Clark, is “canvassing the world” for financing, Williams said at the civic club meeting Tuesday.
When the project was first announced, the Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County, of which Foster is a member, approved a $3,925 million incentive to ESP. Almost $3 million of that went to purchase more than 1,000 acres of land in northern Jefferson County, where the plant is to be built. ESP has signed a lease for the land.
Speaking to the Pine Bluff Rotary Club in March, Williams said the plant will be built in three stages, with the first of them producing 33,000 barrels of fuel per day. By the end of the third stage, he said that the plant will produce 100,000 barrels of fuel per day.
Nisbett said the next step will involve ESP applying for the variety of permits that will be necessary from the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers (for the dock that will be necessary on the river) and a multitude of other state and federal agencies.
“There’s a process they have to go through and they’re going to do a lot of due diligence, but in the end it’s going to be worth it,” she said. “Maybe in about two and-a-half years we will be able to go to a ground breaking. In addition, there are going to be the indirect jobs from suppliers who are going to want to be close to the plant. This is going to be a game changer for our county and our state.”
Foster noted that “this kind of project does not happen over night but it’s great for central and southeast Arkansas.”’