Concrete producer plans to take on vertically-integrated giants

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US: Ozinga Bros. Inc., a concrete producer, has been given the go-ahead to build a new US$250m cement plant in Chicago, Illinois. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit for the project in December 2011. A comment period has now passed with no known objections. Ozinga has 27 concrete plants in the Chicago area.

It is forecast that the new plant would provide around 300 construction jobs until it is completed in 2015. It would then be commissioned to a capacity of 1Mt/yr. The company has lined up a 50-acre site near Lake Calumet for the project, which was formerly a Cargill grain facility. Development officials are enthusiastically welcoming Ozinga's proposal as Chicago has suffered a massive loss of manufacturing over recent decades. No new industrial plant has been built within the city limits since the 1980s.

The proposal by a concrete producer to set up a new cement plant, which was first mooted in summer 2011, is surprising given the current financial and environmental regulatory climate. Ozinga says that it wants to be able to ensure a reliable supply of cement for its concrete, despite an estimated 60% drop in its revenue since 2007.

Ozinga is looking to keep pace with vertical integration by other concrete and cement producers, which it sees as a potential threat to its own cement supply. Commonly cement producers are looking to buy-up smaller concrete producers in order to increase efficiencies and their bottom lines. This move would see an unusual reversal of these roles. In previous economic booms, Ozinga has seen its cement supply dry up due to competition with larger producers. On occasion it has been forced to source cement from as far afield as Thailand and South Korea, increasing its transport costs to unsustainable levels. It fears that it may be left with the same problem again when demand for concrete returns in the US.

However, despite the enthusiasm from many quarters within Chicago, the Ozinga plant is far from a done deal. Expected to employ about 80 full-time employees, it could yet be subjected to an incentive-spiked bidding war between the job-hungry states of Illinois and Indiana. Ozinga executives have met with Govenor Mitch Daniels and other officials in Indiana, where Ozinga already has seven ready-mix plants, but neither state has yet offered project-specific incentives.

"We're happy to work with the group and show them the advantages Indiana has to offer," said Jim Staton, regional director in Crown Point at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. "We do that with every company." Ted Stalnos, president of the Calumet Area Industrial Commission, which has backed the project, said, "We would be very disappointed if Ozinga suddenly decided to go in that direction."

"This is like a survival move for us," said Martin Ozinga IV, the fourth generation at the 84-year-old firm. "If the economy comes back at some time, the country is going to be short (of cement) again." Ozinga added that he did not expect financing the project to be a problem, with banks already interested in the plan.

Last modified on 08 February 2012

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