New plant is 'life-changing for us'
Last updated 3/7/2023 at 6:07pm
Orange County Judge John Gothia said he's lived in the county 55 years and the new ChevronPhillips Golden Triangle Polymers plant is the biggest thing he's seen here in all those years.
Gothia was among the international speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday afternoon for the $8.5 billion plant.
And as if that kind of investment in the community was not enough, ChevronPhillips announced a $1.325 million donation to Lamar State College Orange for a new process training unit to teach courses to provide process operators and instrument technicians for the petrochemical industry.
Dr. Tom Johnson, president of LSCO and a native of Port Arthur, said the new plant "is life-changing for all of us."
Construction work is expected to provide up to 4,500 jobs, and the plant, when opened in 2026, will have 500 permanent jobs. The company estimates it will create a $50 billion impact on the community during the next 20 years.
Gothia said he first ran for public office because he hated seeing children growing up in the county and then leaving for jobs. "I had a lot of years to watch our talent here leave us," he said. Now, more jobs and opportunities will be at home.
The new plant won the silver medal in a national list of economic development deals for 2022. It was the second largest deal in the country.
ChevronPhillips is promoting the plant's new name as "Golden Triangle Polymers." Souvenirs given to the invited guests and media all displayed the name. So did a Star Wars-worthy 3-D, big screen display of the future plant's design and layout.
The company has cleared some 2,000 acres of land off Highway 87 South between FM 1006, also known as Chemical Row, and Foreman Road, which leads into Chemical Row. Even though the company did not officially announce the plant's construction until the end of last year, locals were not surprised by the announcement. They had watched for months as the land was cleared, drainage canals and a retention pond dug, roads built into the interior, and industrial electrical lines installed.
Guards, along with an Orange police officer, checked the invitation list to the ceremony. A few yards traveling south on a semi-paved road, the county of swamps appeared to be a vast desert of tan sand. Giant cranes were dotted around and dust from bulldozers blew into the air.
When guests arrived at the end of the road, they found a paved parking lot outside a giant tent.
The ceremony was held in an air-conditioned industrial-size tent. Two red carpets led from the parking lot to the tent. One greeter with a big smile was Jerry Ziller, who is a retired deputy Orange fire chief who is now in charge of the existing Chevron Chemical plant in Orange.
That connection was made by Bruce Chinn, president and CEO of Chevron Phillips Chemical. He said Chevron has had a connection with Orange back to the 1950s. That was when the old Gulf Oil Chemical plant opened and become one of the first in the chain of petrochemical plants. Chevron acquired Gulf, and the plant, 40 years ago.
Chinn also said Chevron Phillips has worked with Qatar Energy for the last 20 years. The new plant is a joint venture between the two, with Chevron Phillips holding 51 percent and a "indirect subsidiary" of Qatar Energy with 49 percent.
Speakers included an executive with Qatar Energy and at least two sheiks were among the guests, as was the Qatar consul in Houston. Also, U.S. senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz sent staff members, as did U.S. representatives Randy Weber and Brian Babin.
Governor Greg Abbott sent a proclamation for the special event along with Larry McManus, director of business and community development for the governor's economic development office.
At least two private jets were parked at the Orange County Airport, which is across the street from the new plant site. Two black Mercedes transport vans with blacked-out windows were outside the tent at the groundbreaking.
All members of Orange County Commissioners Court attended. Mayor Larry Spears Jr. of Orange, Mayor Randy Branch of West Orange, and Mayor David Rutledge of Bridge City were seen in the crowd. Others included city managers and school superintendents.
The new plant will include a "world-scale" 2,080 KTA ethane cracker and two 1,000 KTA high-density polyethylene units, according to a release from Golden Triangle Polymers. The company is also touting new energy-saving methods and lower emissions.
For those not in the petrochemical business, the plant will make the chemicals for plastics. Company President Chinn said those plastics are turned into products like kayaks, coolers, playground equipment, water pipes, and a variety of packings, including prescription drugs.
News about the possibility of a new multi-billion-dollar plant coming to Orange broke in January 2018 when a company representative went before the West Orange-Cove school board for economic incentive measure.
County Judge Gothia said at Tuesday's ceremony the success in getting the plant to Orange took a lot of cooperation and efforts from a lot of people. He particularly pointed out Jessica Hill, who was Orange County Economic Development Director during the process of various negotiations, including a tax abatement. Another part of the process involved the city of Orange disannexing some of the site. The city will have an Industrial District Contract for in-lieu of taxes payments.
Gothia also thanked the Orange County Drainage District for its work making sure the new construction does not interfere with drainage prevention plans. Gothia pointed out that people driving in couldn't miss seeing all the drainage ditches across the expansive property.
Already, the news of the Golden Triangle Polymers plant has brought a building boom with new stores and housing developments under construction or plans.