Bringing opportunities home
Inviting chemical companies to make their homes in West Virginia, bringing jobs and creating opportunities, is part of Kevin DiGregorio’s mission.
A native of Richwood in Nicholas County, DiGregorio graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in engineering. Now he serves as executive director for the Chemical Alliance Zone (CAZ), an economic development organization that promotes the chemical industry in Kanawha, Putnam, Cabell and Wayne counties.
“A strategic location and a readily available, skilled work force are important incentives for industries to locate in West Virginia,” said DiGregorio, “but having available infrastructure is a big selling point for a company that wants to come into this market.”
West Virginia employs a “co-location” strategy to turn chemical plants’ extra space or underutilized capacity into working assets. Essentially, existing operations share infrastructure with new companies interested in coming to the state. The companies can share the costs of utilities, waste management, safety and environmental management, compliance, information technology and security. The advantages include lower capital investment, faster startup and reduced operating costs compared to locating to a new, green site.
The nonprofit CAZ works with established firms and start-ups, from multinational corporations such as Kureha PGA LLC to small firms such as Progenesis Technologies LLC.
Kureha PGA LLC is building a new $100 million manufacturing facility, co-located on the DuPont site in Belle. The plant will be dedicated to the production of polyglycolic acid (PGA).
In the past, PGA has been limited to small scale operations making surgical sutures because manufacturers had no cost-effective process to produce the resin in high volumes. Parent company global specialty products firm Kureha Corporation achieved a breakthrough in the high-volume, cost-effective manufacture of PGA. The resin has gas barrier properties 100 times better than conventional PET used in water bottles. PGA is biodegradable and compatible with PET recycling processes.
“We worked with the West Virginia Development Office, DuPont and Charleston Area Alliance (CAA) for several years to help facilitate Kureha’s interest in West Virginia,” said DiGregorio. “We worked with Kureha officials, CAA and state work force development agencies to help find engineers for the new facility.”
On the other end of the scale is Progenesis, a biotechnology startup founded by Marshall University professors Dr. Hongwei Yu and Dr. Richard Niles. Dr. Yu discovered a way to produce large amounts of reliably consistent alginate. Normally harvested only at certain times of the year from the seaweed cells, alginate is used in everything from cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to brewing. Progenesis’ commercial production of alginate from bacteria has the potential to be faster, simpler and at a lower cost.