At CJ Bio America, winter weather has been no impediment to progress.
Construction has continued apace at the plant-in-progress west of Fort Dodge, said general affairs manager Luke Palmer.
On any given day, 250 to 300 contractors may be on site, with work continuing seven days a week, he said. Construction cranes loom over the facility, which is surrounded by materials that will help form the $323 million facility.
-Messenger photo by Jesse Helling
Signs direct traffic along Harvest Avenue to the Cargill plant under construction west of Fort Dodge.
This rendering offers a glimpse of what CJ Bio America’s plant will look like upon completion in 2014.
By early 2014, CJ launch production of several products, including amino acids for use in livestock feed and fertilizer.
CJ will operate in tandem with a nearby facility owned by Cargill.
Set to open this fall, the Cargill wet mill biorefinery will also produce a number of products - including starch that will serve as the primary component of CJ's production.
The Cargill facility, acquired from the London-based Tate & Lyle in 2011, will see approximately $200 million in new investment prior to opening, said Alan Viaene, assistant vice president and facility manager.
The symbiotic relationship between CJ and Cargill, coupled with present ethanol production at Valero Renewables, is the lynchpin of the North Central Ag Industrial Park, which has been touted by local leaders as the engine of economic growth in the region.
Located off Iowa Highway 7 west of Fort Dodge, the North Central Ag Industrial Park was a project decades in the making.
In December 2005, the first occupant of the park - VeraSun Energy - began production at its $100 million facility. The plant was capable of producing 110 million gallons of ethanol annually.
In 2006, Tate & Lyle broke ground on a $260 million corn wet mill plant, heralded at the time as the largest single investment in Webster County to date.
Though the future of value-added agriculture seemed bright, several hurdles were yet to be overcome.
On March 18, 2009, construction of the Tate & Lyle plant was halted mere months before production was slated to begin, with company officials citing a downturn in the ethanol market as a reason for stopping work on the plant.
The previous October, VeraSun declared bankruptcy after posting losses of more than $476 million in the wake of plummeting corn prices that left the company holding contracts for corn at above market prices.
However, the same day of the Tate & Lyle announcement, Valero Renewable Energy announced a buyout several of VeraSun's facilities - including the Webster County plant.
The company formally took possession in April 2009.
With the future on one of the park's facilities seemingly secure, attention turned to finding a new owner for the abandoned Tate & Lyle project.
After two years of effort, on March 31, 2011, Cargill announced its purchase of the facility.
"We believe that a highly efficient, well-located corn wet mill ethanol plant fits well into our bio-product portfolio," said Alan Willits, president of Cargill Corn Milling North America, at the time of purchase. "We see an opportunity in Fort Dodge to replicate the success we have had at our Blair, Neb., and Eddyville, biorefinery campuses."
The months ahead
The Cargill facility will produce a form of sugar called dextrose and some ethanol. The wet milling process used there will enable other potential products to be made in the future, including antibiotics, chemicals, colors and dyes, enyzmes, pesticides and vitamins.
Much of the Cargill plant's output will be used by other companies to make finished products.
The facility presently employs 132 people, said Viaene.
On Dec. 10, 2012, 70 new employees reported to work at Cargill.
Part of the training process will involve sending employees to other Cargill properties, including Eddyville, Blair, Neb. and Wahpeton, N.D., Viaene said.
"They'll do two-week stints at these plants, alternating throughout the summer," he said.
CJ Bio America will use material from Cargill. to produce amino acids for use in feed for poultry and hogs.
In November 2012, Dennis Plautz, chief executive officer of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, said the profitability of the local Cargill plant is based on how many other companies locate nearby and use its products.
Because of the company's need to attract other plants, Cargill has become "an unpaid marketing arm'' for the community, he said.
Eventually, local leaders envision a thicket of development stretching from Highway 7 south to Moorland and U.S. Highway 20.
Though construction has continued without interruption at Cargill and CJ this winter, an upswing is predicted as the year wears on.
More than 400 contractors are working at the Cargill site at present, Viaene said. As of late January, the plant marked 600 accident-free days, he said.
"Safety is our first priority," sad Viaene.
Meanwhile, as construction at CJ progresses, Palmer said that, in the near future, the number of contractors working on site could swell to 900.
As for permanent employees, Palmer said that between 80 and 90 positions remain to be filled.
In January, 53 new operators began their training in conjunction with a curriculum developed by Iowa Central Community College.
"Week by week, things change so much," he said.