Just a few feet beyond the Tennessee-Mississippi state line past the Fayette County line on U.S. 72 is the turn onto Cayce Road in Byhalia and what is soon to be the first U.S. plant of the Danish company Roxul Inc.
Ferrell Paving had already broken ground earlier this spring at the 110-acre site in Marshall County, Miss., where Roxul will employ about 150 people initially to make, package and ship stone wool insulation.
The Danish ambassador to the U.S., executives from the Denmark parent company Rockwool International and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant did the formal honors Wednesday, May 8, as tractors and other heavy equipment continued to set the stage for the plant and packaging site that is a $160 million investment by the company.
“We understand that’s just a state line there,” Bryant said after the speeches and ceremony were done. “There will be Tennessee people that will be working here.”
Rock wool is a relatively small insulation market in the U.S. Roxul has two plants in Canada.
But outside North America, Roxul operates 25 factories in 16 countries. The insulation is made from natural stone and recycled materials. The production waste is also recycled. And Roxul plants use storm water and recycled process water in the production process.
The basic manufacturing process, which Roxul president Trent Ogilvie described in part as “melting rocks,” will take place at the Byhalia plant along with all of the other steps in the process including the packaging.
Ogilvie was part of the Roxul site selection team that began looking in summer 2011 with the idea that the plant would be somewhere in the South.
Rockwool CEO Eelco van Heel said the make up of the insulation – “3 percent fibers and 97 percent air” – was also a factor in site selection.
“The first thing that we looked for is logistics,” he said. “All the trucks that we send out of our factories all over the world every hour contain 97 percent air. So logistics for us, as you may understand, is a crucial thing to the company.”
The plant, which is scheduled to open in a year, is in Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park – the third tenant in the 3,600-acre park that includes a 750,000-square-foot EXEL distribution center and a new 500,000-square-foot ASICS American Corp. distribution center.
“We are closer to greater Memphis. The employment and universities and just the economic size of greater Memphis was an attraction,” Ogilvie said of the site. “Alabama fought really hard for it. It really didn’t come down to a bigger incentive for one state or the other. They were very competitive. We just thought greater Memphis was a little bit better place to be.”
The state of Mississippi put up $12 million in incentives for the project.
“Infrastructure and workforce development is an important part of that,” Bryant said. Community Development Block Grant “money is involved – federal money to bring in economic development projects. But with the company putting the amount of money – nearly $150 million of corporate funds in it – we felt like it was a very good investment for Mississippi.”
Bryant said the incentives were important but not the main thrust of the state’s recruitment efforts.
“It was also our ability to convince Roxul that this was a workforce that could get the job done. The relationships are always important – being completely honest with them,” he said. “There are no ‘no’s’ in Mississippi.”