With slightly more than 100 jobs at first but more than $70 million in investment in the plant, Aspen Aerogels' factory will be the largest new industry in Bulloch County since the 2012 completion of the Great Dane trailer plant, and larger in some ways.
Great Dane brought about 400 jobs. But the initial capital investment was about $35 million, half of what is expected from its newly announced future neighbor.
The $70 million investment that Georgia officials announced Aspen Aerogels will make here is its commitment for just the first manufacturing line of what may become a three-line plant, John Fairbanks, the company's chief financial officer, said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
"Our commitment is to invest at least $70 million - put it that way," Fairbanks said. "That's just what we intend to spend on the first manufacturing line, and our intent would actually be ultimately to construct three lines, total."
Aspen Aerogels makes aerogel thermal insulation used mainly in oil refineries, petrochemical plants, liquefied natural gas facilities, power plants and similar operations. Aerogel is an ultralight, porous material made from a gel and noted for its insulating properties and very low density.
The Development Authority of Bulloch County had been involved in discussions since a visit by Aspen Aerogels' executives in December. The city of Statesboro will extend water, sewer and natural gas mains, free of tap fees, to the 43-acre site, across the street from Great Dane in Gateway Industrial Park. The county also has a role in preparations to bring the plant here. But the local agencies left the announcement to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
"Aspen Aerogels is a major addition to Georgia's thriving technology industry," Deal said in a news release Monday on his office website. "The company's Statesboro location offers close proximity to our top-notch transportation infrastructure and some of our first-class academic institutions. I am confident that our highly-skilled workforce and competitive resources will be uniquely beneficial for Aspen's growth in Georgia."
Construction is expected to begin sometime in 2016, said Benjy Thompson, CEO of the Development Authority of Bulloch County.
"The preliminary estimate for the start of production would be the end of 2017," Thompson said.
Fairbanks confirmed this but did not offer a more specific timeline. The approximately 106 jobs that Thompson heard will be created would be for the first line only, but the company is not making a further projection because future decisions will be involved, Fairbanks said.
Aspen Aerogels Inc., traded on the New York Stock Exchange with symbol ASPN, currently employs more than 250 people at two locations. Its headquarters and research and development labs are in Northborough, Massachusetts, and its manufacturing plant is in East Providence, Rhode Island. In a Thursday news release on its website, the company, founded in 2001, reported record total revenue of $31.5 million for the third quarter of 2015. That statement contained an announcement of the planned Statesboro plant, largely repeated in the governor's release.
"We are pleased to announce the selection of Statesboro, Georgia, as the site for our second manufacturing facility," Aspen Aerogels President and CEO Don Young said in the corporate release. "The 43-acre site is served by rail and provides access to the Savannah, Charleston and Jacksonville ports. ... Statesboro and the surrounding region is served by a well-developed technical education system featuring Georgia Southern University, Ogeechee Technical College, and East Georgia State College.
"In addition, the region is home to a strong, available workforce and will provide Aspen with secure and low-cost utilities and good access to critical raw materials," Young continued.
Aspen Aerogels currently exports 60 percent of its production, Fairbanks said.
"We're the opposite of the companies where jobs are going outside the U.S.," he said. "We're hiring here, manufacturing here and exporting, so we really feel we're beneficial to the communities where we site our plants."
He noted that, before the projected factory jobs are created, building the plant will employ earthmoving and construction contractors, plumbers and electricians.
The need for rail access was a key factor in the choice of the particular site, Thompson said. This will require construction of a railroad spur from the existing Georgia Southern Railway line.
"We are going to pursue grant funding to help support the construction of that (spur)," Thompson said.
He was not yet releasing all details of the local inducements, but the city and county governments were helping to trumpet the effort's success. The governor's announcement quoted Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Garrett Nevil and Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore.
"The Statesboro-Bulloch County community is proud to have Aspen Aerogels choose to locate here," Nevil said. "The decision is a great example of our community's team working together to bring this company and its quality jobs to our area."
"The city of Statesboro welcomes Aspen Aerogels to our progressive and business friendly community," said Moore. "We believe that Aspen will be a great success story for our community."
Georgia Department of Economic Development project manager Wylly Harrison worked with the Development Authority of Bulloch County, Georgia Quick Start, Georgia EMC and the Georgia Ports Authority on the recruiting effort, according to the governor's release.
Bulloch County faced considerable competition for the project, Thompson said.
"It became an elimination game between us and dozens of other sites around the world, and in the end, I think they narrowed it down to a site here in Georgia, which ultimately was us, and a site in South Carolina, and they chose us," he said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.