story and photo by Marla Cantrell
Work is “substantially” ahead of schedule on the new Oxane Materials plant in Van Buren’s Industrial Park.
Mayor Bob Freeman met with representatives from the company in early April and is pleased with the progress. The company announced Dec. 28, 2009, it would locate an operation in Van Buren.
“They will begin hiring very shortly,” Freeman said.
Oxane Materials is scheduled to open by mid-summer. On Monday, April 12, construction crews were working at the 11.68 acre site, revamping the former Therma-Tru facility. The Houston-based company expects to invest $15 million to get its first plant running.
The facility will use nanotechnology to manufacture proppants, which are suspended in the frac fluid used to drill gas and oil wells. When forced into the underground fractures, the proppants hold the breaks open after the frac fluid is removed.
“The technology was developed in a laboratory at Rice University and is transitioning into the manufacturing market,” Freeman said. “This is a start-up, first production of this product. There’s expected to be a huge demand for this product.”
As for Van Buren, Freeman said the city earmarked $300,000 for improvements to Industrial Park Road. But the cost will be much greater to get the road in shape. He’s now looking for matching funds.
The company will initially hire 40 to 50 workers, although Oxane hopes this is just the start. The manufacturer is already anticipating a gradual expansion of the Van Buren plant over the next four years at an estimated cost of $32 million. Once complete, 300 workers should be working at the plant.
Carl Sorrell, Oxane’s vice president of manufacturing, said a portion of the positions will require 24/7 attention. He would not release wages it will offer, saying the information is confidential.
Once hired, the new workers will begin training.
“The training will be of two types,” Sorrell said. “On the job specific to the equipment we are using and we hope to partner with UA Fort Smith to utilize their facilities and expertise for training in various higher level mathematic and science training.”
Sondra Lamar, director of public relations, said the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith works with new businesses to facilitate training and is excited about the addition to the area. Talks between the school and Oxane, are in the preliminary stages.
Oxane is also working on safety measures for future employees.
“All our raw materials are non-hazardous, so exposure poses very little risk,” Sorrell said. “As with any factory, however, there is mobile equipment, moving parts, and the possibility of accidents exist. ... Safety training and procedures will be extensive and comprehensive.”
Sorrell, along with two other executives, will relocate to the area.
“If we can help them do well, then hopefully they can make this their home,” Freeman said.
But Van Buren might never have been in the running had it not been for Cheryl Garner, vice president of economic development for the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. When Oxane couldn’t find what it needed in Fort Smith, Garner directed them to the vacant Therma-Tru building across the river.
It’s this kind of regionalism that Freeman believes will be the saving grace for this area.
“What’s good for one of us, is good for the other. ... I had a gentleman come in last week. He was laid off from OK Foods in November, and in 90 days got hired at Mars Petcare at Chaffee. Of the 12 people on his line, six are from Crawford County.”