By Dennis Seid
BURNSVILLE — With half of the promised jobs in place, Mississippi Silicon is poised to hit its annual production capacity of silicon metal in just a few months.
The 174,000-square-foot facility, which opened a mere 21 months after breaking ground, is the first silicon metal production plant built in the U.S. in nearly four decades.
It now employs 100 workers, and by the end of the year that number should climb to 125. The goal of 200 workers should be reached “in the next several years.”
The jobs pay an average of $45,000 a year, officials said.
Ricardo Vicintin, the chairman of the Mississippi Silicon, said the plant will be “the premier silicon manufacturing facility in our industry.”
Vicintin also is CEO of Rima Industrial SA, one of the largest privately owned industrial companies in Brazil that supplies a range of metals and metal products worldwide. Rima owns an 80 percent stake in Mississippi Silicon, with the remainder owned by CleanTech LLC, a group of investors and financial partners.
Vicintin said the annual production capacity of 36,000 metric tons should be reached by March.
“We should be making 100 tons per day,” he said.
But the plant could have been built elsewhere. When Rima began scouting for a location, it first looked at its South American neighbors.
Paraguay and Uruguay were the initial choices, but the finalists turned out to be Quebec and Mississippi.
The Magnolia State was selected, Vicintin said, because of the location’s proximity to raw materials. The plant uses use coal, wood chips and quartz to make the silicon metal.
He also credited the state — which is provided $21.5 million for building construction and workforce training, as well as a $3.5 million loan to Tishomingo County for infrastructure improvements.
The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway also was another draw, Vicintin said.
“We have several customers that will be supplied by the waterway,” he said.
The silicon metal will be used in thousands of products ranging from computer chips to automotive manufacturing to chemicals used in industrial, commercial and consumer applications.
“It will be used in such things computers, solar panels ... shampoos, conditioners, sealants for glass — it has a very large application," Vicintin said. “We don’t make it ourselves, but we’ll sell to the industries that make them.”
Vicintin said finding customers won’t be a problem.
“Almost all of the material has been sold out for next year,” he said. “We are qualifying now for the chemical industry; the aluminum industry is easier. But we are already supplying several customers in the U.S.”
Some of the metal will go to South Korea and other world markets where demand is strong but the bulk of it will stay in the U.S.
Production in Brazil, which had been supplying Rima’s U.S. customers, will be diverted to other countries.
“We will be supplying our customers in the U.S. from our subsidiary here,” Vincintin said.
The opening of the plant was not without controversy, however. A lawsuit seeking to stop the plant from opening was dismissed in July.
Suing Mississippi Silicon were 16 Front Street LLC and C. Richard Cotton of Saltillo.
16 Front Street is a subsidiary of Miami-based Globe Specialty Metals, a silicon metal producer that has a plant in Alabama. Cotton is a writer who said the plant’s pollution would hurt his enjoyment of area parks and lakes.
They had also asked for an injunction to stop the project, but that, too, was dismissed.
Though other American companies refine silicon metal for their own use, Globe’s four plants are the only domestic producers for commercial markets.
Vicintin said he never worried about the lawsuit or his plant’s future.
“That’s over,” he said. “It was over from the very beginning because it was just blah, blah, blah in my opinion. The plant is running, and the second furnace will be running 15 days from now. I’m accustomed to the competition. But it’s funny — I’m never concerned about the competition but they’re always concerned about me.”
Vicintin jabbed at his rivals, saying they usually buy old plants, while he prefers building new ones.
“Why? Because if you have a new plant, you are always more competitive because you are better located to several perks, like workforce,” he said. “In my opinion, there’s nothing to compare.”
The minority owner of the plant is Clean Tech I LLC, a domestic investor group that was led by John Correnti, who led the effort to build what is now the Steel Dynamics steel mill in Columbus. Correnti died unexpectedly in August from natural causes.
He has been chairman of Mississippi Silicon, a role Vicintin said he reluctantly took over.
Gov. Phil Bryant said it was Correnti who successfully led the efforts to get the plant built in Burnsville.
“He had a dream of starting this; he knew there had not been a silicon company built in the Western hemisphere in 40 years, and he had a vision of building one here,” Bryant said. “He knew Ricardo, so the two of them came together to make this a reality. Unfortunately, we lost John several months ago, but this is his vision, and it’s a remarkable vision.”