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Wilmington Competing With Tampa For National Gypsum Reopening

By Cece Nunn, posted Feb 20, 2018
Despite delayed public hearings on economic development incentives, Wilmington is still competing with a city in Florida for the reopening of a company's plant that could add 51 jobs, a company official said Tuesday.

"Wilmington is still in the running, but we're also looking at another plant," that could be reopened, which is in Tampa, said Nancy Spurlock, spokeswoman for National Gypsum Co.

She said company officials hope to make the decision this year.

The company, which makes gypsum wallboard, also known as drywall, has a facility on Sunnyvale Drive in Wilmington where National Gypsum's operations ceased in January 2009. About 60 workers were laid off at the time. The company's plant in Tampa shut down in June 2008, according to a story by the Tampa Tribune

Wilmington and New Hanover County officials were set this week to consider potential economic development incentives for the company to reopen its Wilmington facility and bring the 51 new jobs, which have an average salary of $57,000, and $25 million in capital improvements.

The city's portion of the incentives package could be up to $230,000 over five years and the county's $350,000 over five years. Concerns over potential formaldehyde emissions led to county officials tabling the matter at the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday morning. As a result, the Wilmington City Council is expected to vote Tuesday night to continue a public hearing on the National Gypsum incentives that are on its agenda.

"Yesterday, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners delayed hearing this item to seek more information and the city will do the same," according to a city of Wilmington news release Tuesday.

Wilmington Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes said city officials, like county officials, need more answers about what else might be produced by the plant besides gypsum wallboard.

"We need to find that out and I think very specifically what the chemicals are, what the byproducts are, does it smell, when is it going to be released, how potent, how dangerous ... We gotta get some answers to the questions before we vote on this," she said Tuesday.

Spurlock said the recent city and county actions have not crossed Wilmington off the firm's list.

"We have to weigh what we're doing in both areas," Spurlock said.

Both locations are strategic for the firm.

"They're in the Southeast and that's where we need to add some production," Spurlock said.

On Monday, James Phipps, director of environmental services for National Gypsum, told county officials that the existing permit for National Gypsum was renewed by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality in 2016, and it expires in 2024. He said that with regard to formaldehyde emissions, the main concern of speakers at the county meeting Monday, the company is permitted for and limited to 8.77 tons per year, "which makes us a minor source under the Clean Air Act." 

Spurlock said during the last year of production, in 2008, the company emitted 2 tons of formaldehyde.

Since then, technology has improved. If National Gypsum reopens a plant, either in Tampa or Wilmington, the equipment will be upfit with modern controls and will have modern burners on the board dryers to operate efficiently, Spurlock said.

Asked about whether Tampa officials might be offering incentives for National Gypsum, Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Bauer said the organization could not provide a comment on its project activity, "whether that would be to confirm or deny if we’re working with a particular company."

Correction: The Wilmington City Council's public hearing on National Gypsum Co. incentives will not be removed from the council's agenda for Tuesday night but is expected to be delayed by a vote to continue the item during the meeting.

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