IKO Industries, a company founded in Canada, announced last week the plans to renovate and open the former Nippon Glass plant in Chester County, which closed in 2017. The industry announced a $363 million investment and will create 180 new jobs.
The IKO Industries plan was previously code-named “Project Phoenix.”
In Greek mythology the phoenix is a bird that rises from the ashes of its former self. In just the same way, this project Phoenix rose from the ashes of the former Nippon glass/PPG plant. The economic development announcement was made recently outside of the former fiberglass production plant by Governor Henry McMaster and other officials from the county, state and the industry itself which is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Before the announcement, IKO Industries Director of Communications Derek Fee spoke to the N&R about the company, why they chose Chester and why the former Nippon Glass plant was perfect for their needs.
“The company was founded in 1951 in Calgary, Alberta. IKO is a global manufacturer and distributor of roofing, waterproofing and insulation products. We operate close to 40 manufacturing facilities around the globe, with about 4,000 employees.…it’s a family owned company. the sons and grandsons of the founder are still involved in the business today,” he said.
Fee said the company is not only renovating the glass manufacturing plant, they are also building a new mat plant nearby. That plant will be the fiberglass plant’s main “customer” as the materials created at the glass plant will be used by the mat plant to create the materials for the shingles and other products IKO produces.
“Production is all vertically-integrated and that’s sort of in the DNA of our company; we control every aspect of our raw materials right on up to our finished goods. That allows us to control our access to materials as well as quality control,” Fee said.
The Nippon facility is already designed to manufacture the kinds of products the company manufactures, “so it’s ready-made in a lot of ways for us,” he said.
Fee said IKO Industries actually looked at the property as a possible location many years ago, before PPG bought it.
“We’ve known it was here for some time, and the stars were aligned this time to allow us to acquire it.”
In addition to the fact the plant was already ready-made to manufacture the materials, Fee listed the proximity to a major interstate and the rail access as other reasons why this site was chosen.
“Logistics are always an important consideration in location,” he added.
There is also a workforce to draw on that has familiarity with the types of material IKO will produce at their Chester County plants.
“I think finding employees anywhere is always challenging these days, so the fact we already have people in the area that are familiar with the kinds of things we will be making here is definitely a plus,” he said.
He said the renovation of the current plant will probably take two years, with the new mat plant coming online shortly after that. First run production will take place in mid to late 2025. Hiring may take place in mid to late 2024.
Chester County Economic Development Director Robert Long said in his opening remarks, “we are very excited, especially when you have this facility here being used once again…this was Project Phoenix, so it’s very appropriatly named, because three years later, the facility rises from the ashes, and will be back on the tax rolls, creating productive jobs and investment for Chester County.”
IKO CEO David Koschitzky told the crowd, “In the last 30 years, we have been able to minvest in many great states in the Union: Washington state, Illinois state, Maryland, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, but the largest investment…we have ever made anywhere in the world is coming here to South Carolina.
“We are doing this here because you truly made us feel welcome. That’s a special feeling, and it’s a tribute to you,” he said.
“The question that you may ask yourselves is: we are spending a significant amount of money here on two facilities that are going to supply ourselves internally, and one may ask ‘there are other suppliers of these raw materials, why are we spending so much money on that?”
Koschitzky related the history of his company, restarted in Canada by his grandfather, and how at one point his grandfather was dependent on another business for some of the raw materials that he needed to create his product. After that experience, Koschitzky’s grandfather determined his company would be responsible for producing the raw materials that went into their products themselves.
“We look at this facility and the one we’re planning to build down the road as the heart and soul of our business,. It is what will keep us independent and able to compete, and we’re very happy to be here for that reason,” he said.
Asked about what kind of community member the company will be, Koschitzky proudly pointed to the fact that many of the employees have been with the company for 25 years or more, that they recommend IKO as a place to work to their familiy and friends.
“Today we are planting the seeds of a company that hopes to take root and blossom in the Chester County area, and I want you to know that’s the type of we try to build and we look forward to partnering with you here.”
IKO’s North American Operations VP Guy Tremblay told the audience the investment was really two plants, the rebuild of the former Nippon plant and the new one being constructed on Cedarhurst Road.
“This plant here will be producing the fiberglass fiber that we used to make the fiberglass mat at the second plant. So this plant will supply the other that will supply all our roofing plants in North America,” Tremblay said.
He then introduced the two plant managers, Greg Rhodes, who will manage the Chester Glass Fiber Plant and Dale Sexton, who will manage the Glass Mat Plant.
Greg Rhodes, said, “We look forward to the investment, we’ve had a lot of help getting to this point in the background from local people, community people, local government and state government. It’s been a great first step; we’ve got a two-year plan, a two-year journey to rebuild this site. And our goal is to make it a manufacturing site that protects our people here, our community, we’re environmentally responsible, and then we make a world-class operation. So we’re taking ideas and engineering concepts from all around the world, to apply them to this facility to make it a world-class organization.”
Tremblay said IKO was in the process of closing on the Cedarhurst property, which they will buy and build the plant from scratch.
Dale Sexton said, “I want to thank everybody that’s so far has been involved in this, that the community has just really welcomed us and made us feel like family from the very beginning…we’re excited about the plant that we will lead and run. I mean, it’ll start with safety, operating a safe plant keeping our employees safe. With a plant this size, you can really make it into a family and that’s the atmosphere that we’ll create at the facility,” he said.
Chester County Council Chair Joe Branham said it was almost three years ago that Nippon Glass announced they would be closing their doors at the Chester plant, “so now we’re going to resurrect that site,” he said. Referring to the Project Phoenix Codename, he said of IKO Industries, “I don’t know if they’re going to operate for hundreds of years, but I hope they operate for many years, and they are successful. I can promise you that Chester County and Chester County government will do everything they can to make this journey as smooth as possible — we’re going to try to take any hiccups and bumps out of the road to make it an enjoyable adventure for them, as well as profitable as possible,” Branham said.
Governor Henry McMaster advised the audience, “South Carolina is growing so fast and so successfully, all we have to just hold on, because it really is happening.”
He told IKO CEO David Koschitzky that he was glad he said that he felt like he received a warm welcome in South Carolina, because the state was, as the Chairman of BMW said, “a handshake state.
“If someone from South Carolina gives you their hand and their word, he said he’d rather have that than 10 signed contracts,” McMaster related.
The Governor then talked about the rebirth of South Carolina and what makes it a great home for industry.
“This is actually an old state, but it’s almost like we have been reborn just in just in the last few years, because people are coming from all over the world. And there are a lot of good reasons, like our great technical college system…And it’s getting stronger all the time, we putting in millions of dollars for scholarships, so that you will have the workers that you need. And we have something called readySC where if you need to certain curricula in that those technical colleges, they can be added to train the kind of workers that you need. If you have a high demand field and you need workers, South Carolina’s the place, place to go for that,” Governor McMaster said.
“And I just want to let you know we’re ready. We’ve been preparing. The groundwork has been laid across the state for many years, by people in leadership positions in the counties and the state in business. And we are ready for whatever’s coming including electric vehicles, or to the extent they get here, we more than ready we have companies coming in because of that. But they all come in because of the people,” McMaster said.
“That is the reasons that people come here because they want to hire South Carolinians to do the work, important work that they do to make their company thrive,” he said.
He described how South Carolina has been putting millions of dollars into repairing roads, improving water and sewer and are working to provide broadband access “to every house in this state.”
The Governor then presented a bronze plaque to Koschitzky that had the state motto: ‘Dum spiro, spero (While I breathe, I hope) and the inscription ‘Prepared in mind and resources’.
“And we are breathing and hoping, and we are prepared in mind and resources,” McMaster concluded.
In a brief press conference following his remarks, Governor McMaster said the resurgence seen in Chester County is happening “because it’s a great place to live, work and raise a family; it’s also happening all across the state — the momentum is really picking up, we are having more interest by more companies that really want to be here, and the Number One reason they always give is the people,” he said.
The 10 rezoning requests made by Luck Companies for an economic development project including a rock quarry passed their third and final approval by Chester County Council recently at their February meeting.
The next step for the Virginia-based company will be to appear before the Chester County Board of Zoning Appeals to get a special exception permit to allow for mining on their planned site. That meeting will take place on March 14. The public will have a chance to provide comments on the request for the special exception permit at that time.
Responding to a request for comments on the process and the rezoning approval vote, Luck Companies VP of External Affairs Paige Gill stated, ‘Luck Companies is grateful for the vote of confidence from the greater Chester community, Planning Commission and Chester County Council in support of the plans for our new site. The many conversations and sharing of feedback have created greater opportunities for the conditions within our economic development plan. We look forward to the positive partnership that this creates between Luck Companies and Chester County.”
Gill said she understood the votes represent a huge amount of trust and accountability for the company. They plan on being good stewards of that decision and continuing engagement with the community.
“We look forward to providing continued support to the community in numerous ways, including Chester County High Schools’ upcoming Career Fair and Career Readiness program. Supporting the communities where we live and operate is core to our business and our mission of igniting human potential. Again, we are grateful to the Chester community for the recognition of our commitment to the residents of Chester County and are excited to grow together through our continuous partnership,” Gill said.
As part of their rezoning request application, Luck Stone had provided pages of conditions and proffers concerning the use of the property and the commitments the company was willing to make to answer the concerns of nearby community residents in particular, and Luck updated this conditions document several times during the process as the rezoning requests went through county council. The most recent set of conditions answering several specific complaints about noise, hours of operation and the question of mining lithium used in batteries for electric vehicles, was attached to the final reading of the requests.
As part of the conditions, Luck also agreed to a reverter clause in the case of the properties zoned ID 3 (general industrial) where the mining would take place, that states if the property were to be sold, council would have to approve that the zoning chance and special exception was still in place or the property would revert to the previous zoning classification.
Answering a question from Councilman Pete Wilson, Chester County attorney Joanie Winters clarified, “(Luck Stone) would not be able to transfer the property or certainly the zoning without Council’s approval.”
Before the third and final vote, council members took great pains to demonstrate that their approval of the rezoning requests were not just a rubber-stamp, they had put a lot of thought and listened to a lot of constituents on the issues that concerned them about this project.
Council member Corey Guy in particular had some pointed questions for Luck Companies Greenfield Development Director Ben Thompson.
Referring to the 170-acre parcel under discussion, Guy said, “This is the property everybody has been talking about, so I have some questions. What aggregate products will you be mining out of this site?”
Thompson answered, “This is a granite deposit. Our mining permit solely provides for the mining of granite. And we have heard some conversation about you know what else may be there? What’s unspoken, while we only have those rights, and that is also the request that’s in front of you, we did go specifically into the conditions and exclude anything else besides granite, the ability to sell dirt and or sand which may sit over the top of that, but that is the limit. And we even specifically because of the phrasing said, there shall be no lithium mined from the site.”
Guy agreed with other council members who said they noted that statement was included in the conditions, adding “I wanted it for the citizens (to hear that,) because a lot of times the citizens don’t get to see what we read and they don’t get to actually speak to every one of us. A lot of times, they’re in the dark, and we get these calls. And as a public servant, I promised to be their voice. And I will ask these questions in public, so that they will be answered in public so that the citizens will hear, so that they can sleep at night and so that I can sleep at night on the decisions that I make.”
Another condition that Luck Stone proffered was an agreement to donate annually the lesser of one% or $35,000 of their net profit from sales of material to community interests.
Councilman Guy had some questions on this.
He asked Thompson what the company expected to be their net profits for the first year, and Thompson responded they would probably not approach that $35,000 “floor,” adding that he expected the comp-any would probably reach that threshold within the first three to four years.
Thompson explained the rationale behind Luck Stone offering this community fund: “So we wanted the opportunity to sit there and say, with the community board (the Community Interest Engagement Group that Luck is proposing to form) that the condition right above it, what are the most compelling and largest opportunities for contribution that would create lift (for the community?”
Guy asked specifically about mining lithium on the property and asked Thompson what would prevent the company from mining lithium at a later time?
Thompson said that first, there is no lithium on the Luck Stone property and second, “let’s say we were in a different area altogether, and you were mining, granite, and then all of a sudden, somebody said we ought to switch to lithium, that’s an entirely different mining permit,” he said.
Council Chair Joe Branham asked about groundwater and was there any process used in extracting the granite that would contaminate any wells or water?
Luck Stone is not utilizing chemicals to extract the rock (except those used in the blasting shot, which are destroyed in that same blast,) only “rock and water,” Thompson said.
Council member Pete Wilson commented, “I’m really pleased with the conditions that are attached to this permit. That’s the difference between just promises and promises we can hold them to. And so I just encourage you to go on the county website and read those conditions. The details matter. And those details are in those conditions. There has been a lot of talk about lithium; that is in the conditions that they cannot, mine lithium or anything other than what they’ve been talking about, granite.
“That’s not a concern to worry about. It’s in there. And I’m confident that this county can hold them accountable to those conditions, and those conditions actually give us a mechanism and a process to follow to hold them accountable. And that puts my mind at ease, knowing that.
“It was said to me, if this was near your house, would you approve it? And I said, Well, actually it would,” Wilson said, adding, “This is not an antiquated approach to mining. Luck Stone certainly has reputation and the resources to do it the right way. I believe they will.”
He told the citizens, “I would vote this down in a minute, if I thought it was going to damage your homes or put your health at risk.”
Council member Guy said, “I hope during this process, and I’m pretty sure we’ll probably have a process like this again in Chester County. Chester is on the move and up and coming and it’s growing. But I hope I’ve asked the questions that the citizens wanted me to ask. I feel like I’ve gotten the answers that I wanted, that I was looking to get. And ultimately, I’ll say this again, Luck Stone, we’re taking a risk on you. And we expect you to look out for this for this community.”
Council member Erin Mosley told the citizens, “Now, none of us know what the future holds. And I hope that some of these situations don’t ever come to fruition with, you know, the water issue or any anything like that. But just so we’re trying to take care of our constituents as well and you as our neighbors. So please don’t think that this, any of us sat here and just took what was presented in front of us and just said, okay, because that’s not the way it is.”
Mike Vaughn said there is a wealth of information on the DHEC website about this project and he encouraged citizens to take a look at that.
“You can read through all of that and it will make you feel better; it made me feel better when I looked into some of these issues. I would encourage the citizens to educate themselves on some of these issues. It will make you a little bit less worried, I think.”
Councilman William “Budda” Killian said one thing he liked about Luck Stone was “they have done everything we asked them to do,” and that was why he was supporting them.
Finally, Chairman Joe Branham remarked, “I’ve dealt with a lot of industry coming into Chester County before and being on council some 20 years. Never ever have we ever seen a company come in and put in writing the many things they would do. And if an issue arises, they are there to handle it, and I have all the confidence in the world in them.
“And I believe in a year or two from now, a lot of the concerns you have tonight won’t be there, because Luck Stone has pretty much addressed any issue you have had,” he said.
Council proceeded to approve unanimously all 10 of the Luck Stone rezoning requests.
Some faces may change after May’s municipal election in the City of Chester, but the number of council members likely will not.
On Monday, second reading of a referendum for May’s election, which would reduce the size of Chester City Council. After studying protocol for a few minutes, City Attorney Latonya Dilligard-Edwards announced the measure was dead.
“It did not pass. It will not go forward,” she said.
The idea of taking the Council from eight council members (and a mayor) to four or six has been discussed off and on for several years. A motion to put a reduction in size on the ballot actually failed several years ago. However, the council has turned over a number of members in recent years and many of the newcomers were more amenable to the idea. When the particular language of the referendum was discussed in January, first-term Councilman Jamie Price said a smaller body would “make it easier to come together as a council.” He reasoned that one council member from each of the City’s four wards was “more than sufficient.” With all the cutbacks and restructurings that have taken place in the City in recent years, Price said it was only fair for the Council to be willing to accept some cutbacks.
“We can’t ask employees to adapt to changes without some change at the top,” he said previously.
The Council successfully voted last year to put the matter before voters, but a second vote was needed for the finalized version of the referendum to be placed on the ballot. However, Councilman Carlos Williams, a staunch proponent of reducing the size of Chester City Council, was not present for the vote. Had he been, it would have passed 5-4 and appeared on the ballot. The eight members present for the meeting split 4-4, meaning the motion failed for lack of a majority. Dilligard-Edwards said the matter could be reintroduced but would have to start over with another first reading and another second reading. For the referendum to appear on the May ballot, the Council must give final approval by March 15, Dilligard-Edwards said. The City recently went back to one meeting per month and the next scheduled meeting is actually after that deadline. Minus two emergency called meetings, it appears the idea is dead for now.
Chester City Council is the largest body in Chester County, with more voting members than Chester County Council or the Chester County School Board. It is also larger than many municipalities statewide that have significantly larger populations than Chester. Council members that have spoken against giving the public the chance to vote for a smaller council have argued doing so would provide less representation and could perhaps purge the Council of a large percentage of its experience and expertise.
A Great Falls man was arrested recently by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) on 15 counts of dogfighting, seven counts of misdemeanor III treatment of animals and four counts of felony treatment of animals.
Back on Feb. 14, SLED agents executed a search warrant at the home of Burton Lashawn Mincey, 52. SLED issued 15 arrest warrants (with a redacted address) carrying the description “animal fighting or baiting.” Each warrant related to a different dog, but each detailed that, “the defendant’s home was found to have evidence consistent with organized dog fighting, which included some of the following: dogs with scarring, treadmills for conditioning, carpeting that was hidden and appeared to have blood on it, items designed as spring poles and flirt poles, at-home medications (including those injectable via syringe), cans of food consistent with those provided to dogs for conditioning and strength, dogs positioned in a manner consistent with building aggression, dogs attached to large chains heavier than 10% of their body weight and affixed to car axels and hanging scales used to weigh dogs prior to matches.”
There were four warrants for “ill treatment of animals in general, torture” which detailed specific injuries to the animals. A put bull mix listed as being named “Douglas1” was attached to a chain that was greater than 10% of its body weight. The dog had facial scars, scars on his front legs and open wound on his right ear. The dogs ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones, waist and abdominal tuck were all “easily visible” with the dog’s body carrying minimal fat. Douglas1 was eating and drinking from a cement center block that contained dirty water.
“Douglas2,” a pit bull mix was also affixed to a chain greater than 10% of his body weight, had easily visible bones, scarring on his nose and was also drinking from a cement block which was dirty and filled with leaves and other items. His open wooden doghouse contained nothing to protect him from the weather.
Douglas4, another pit bull mix was attached to a tree by a heavy chain that provided very limited movement. He was thin, making many bones visible and had multiple injuries, including a damaged tail, scarring on his muzzle, broken teeth, an abnormally shaped head and scars on his antebrachium bilateral. He was forced to drink dirty water from a block.
“Douglas6” was a pit bull mix with scarring to her head, face, neck, her back thigh and an open wound that was irritated and bloody which had apparently not been treated. Her ribs were “easily visible” and she had to drink water from a dirty concrete block.
Six other warrants listed the description “ill treatment of animals in general, overworking.” It described dogs that were injured, chained to car axels, held in pens filled with urine and feces and with no access to clean water. At least one of the dogs listed in those warrants was believed to be pregnant, all were subject to weather (including cold temperatures) and had bones visibly poking through their skin.
Mincey was arrested on February 14 and released on bond two days later. The bond amounts for his various charges ranged from $1,000 to $5,000.
Mincey will be prosecuted by the Sixth Circuit Solicitor’s Office.