Air Products to add 250 new jobs at Piney Point plant

jsalman@bradenton.comJuly 27, 2012 

PALMETTO -- A Pennsylvania company that builds machines to liquefy natural gas plans to hire 250 local workers for a new manufacturing facility after a land deal at Piney Point is finalized with HRK Holdings LLC.

HRK has been cleared by a federal judge to sell 30 acres of the troubled Piney Point property to Air Products and Chemical Inc. for $5.8 million in an effort for the embattled firm to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and clean up the site.

That sale is expected to close Aug. 31, HRK Chief Executive Officer Jordan Levy said. He declined to comment further.

Air Products, which has been present at all of HRK's hearings to date, plans to build a 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at the site. The company now has a similar plant in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Air Products announced plans to add the 250 jobs by late 2013, when the company expects to begin local operations.

About 120 jobs also will be created through construction. Air Products declined to re

lease an estimated cost for the new facility. The company also would not comment on the HRK litigation.

Air Products will receive $1.75 million in performance-based incentives from the state and another $680,000 from Manatee County if all of the jobs promised are realized. The county also approved a transportation impact fee incentive estimated at $46,876.

Air Products makes liquid natural gas heat exchangers, which may be as large as 16.5 feet in diameter, 180 feet long and weigh as much as 500 tons.

The massive equipment is sold to facilities in rural areas that want to convert natural gas into liquid for trucking shipments when other transportation for the commodity is unavailable.

The Piney Point location is readily accessible to Port Manatee services, which will facilitate global shipping of the exchangers and allow the firm to build even larger liquefied natural gas heat exchangers demanded by the market.

"It's a turn-key operation," Air Products spokesman Art George said. "We make sure it starts, and the facility then becomes the owner of the equipment we build."

Air Products reported net income of $303 million for the third quarter, with total revenues down 5 percent compared to the previous year, according to a July 24 filing with the Security Exchange Commission.

The company's operating income of $397 million was up 2 percent from improved cost performance, which was partially offset by a stronger U.S. dollar.

Officials said the deal will help bridge the gap of 325 manufacturing workers that will be laid off this year when Pierce Manufacturing closes its ambulance division in Bradenton.

It is one of the first positive developments to occur at Piney Point since Mulberry Phosphates Inc. abandoned the property in its bankruptcy in 2001.

The 675-acre Piney Point site is a former phosphate facility purchased by HRK in 2006 to store dredged materials from Port Manatee's Berth 12 project. The tanks and liners housing the dredge failed in May 2011 -- spilling 170 million gallons of toxic water into Bishop Harbor.

"It's nice to have some positive news there," Commissioner and Port Chairman Larry Bustle said. "I have been saying all along we will start to see some momentum."

The new Air Products plant comes at a time when natural gas operations are developing at Port Manatee.

A $850 million pipeline, which will be buried deep under the mouth of Tampa Bay and connected at the port, is slated to begin construction in a year -- with an estimated completion of late 2016.

The Port Dolphin Energy project calls for a 36-inch offshore natural gas pipeline to be built in water 100 feet deep and about 28 miles southwest of Tampa Bay.

Ships carrying liquid natural gas will anchor at the pipeline, sending the liquid through the 42-mile subsea plumbing and into Port Manatee, where it will connect to an existing pipeline on the shore.

The natural gas then would be distributed to power plants across the state. The entire system has been designed so no one on a Florida beach will see it, according to Höegh LNG, the project developer.

The infrastructure has the capacity to provide up to 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to the region -- enough energy to power several million homes.

Although the Dolphin Energy project and the Air Products new facility are not directly related, officials said the synergy creates new opportunities for the port.

"This will bring some really positive momentum to the port," said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Manatee Economic Development Corp. "It's a huge win for us."

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.

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