By Dennis Seid
BURNSVILLE – Within two years, Mississippi’s latest high-tech manufacturing venture, Mississippi Silicon, will employ 200 people, officials said.
But there could be more.
Related businesses – trucking companies, port jobs and potential suppliers, for example – could employ scores of others, officials said. And, some added, the company itself could eventually double or triple in size.
“Let’s go step-by-step first and get the first one operating first,” chuckled Rima Industrial S/A president and CEO Ricardo Vicintin. “But if the economy continues the way it does and operations continue as they have in the past, I think we have great possibilities here. Very, very good possibilities.”
Missisippi Silicon will produce silicon metal for a variety of industries in the U.S. and Canada including aluminum, automotive and chemical. Some materials also could go to Japan and South Korea.
Braulo Lage, president of Polymet, which is the exclusive North American distributor for Rima, said Mississippi Silicon will sell to several key markets.
“We will sell to the aluminum industry, primarily those who make aluminum products; secondary aluminum users like recycling companies; and of course the silicon companies themselves,” he said. “There are thousands of applications for silicon including shampoo, sealant, rubber. Also, we will sell to the electronics industry and the solar industry. The potential is all over.”
It was Vincintin’s interest that helped push the project forward after a stalled effort two years earlier.
Vicintin’s U.S. affiliate, Rima Holdings USA, is the chief investor in the $200 million Mississippi Silicon project. Rima thus has an 80 percent stake in the venture, which Vicintin said was the first greenfield silicon manufacturing project in the western hemisphere in about 40 years.
“The rest have been built in China and Asia,” he said.
Vicintin said Rima had been looking all over the world to build a silicon metal facility. In fact, it had originally eyed a site in Quebec. But Mississippi officials, including Gov. Phil Bryant, convinced the company to look at Mississippi.
On Monday, they all gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony in Burnsville a few miles from the nearly 100-acre site of where the plant will be in the Northeast Mississippi Waterfront Industrial Park.
Mississippi Silicon will bring 200 high-paying jobs, officials said – averaging about $55,000 in salary and benefits per worker.
Site work has begun, and construction of the plant should take 18 to 24 months. Several hundred workers will be involved with the construction, another economic boost for Tishomingo County, which had 8.9 percent unemployment in November, the latest figures available.
“This is one of our most important projects we’ve ever had,” said Gary Matthews, the executive director of the Tishomingo County Development Foundation. “This means we can compete globally.”
The plant will use coal, wood chips and quartz as raw materials. Two furnaces will be used in the the production of the silicon metal.
The project was announced on Dec. 31, and according to the MDA, the state is providing a total of $21.15 million for building construction and workforce training, as well as a $3.5 million loan to Tishomingo County for infrastructure needs.
Mississippi Silicon had eyed Lowndes County two years ago but the deal fell through.
John Correnti, the chairman of the board for Mississippi Silicon, said officials there “lost patience with us and made some unreasonable demands” on the company. “So we picked up our bat and ball and looked elsewhere.”