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State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, with Indorama Polymers CEO Aloke Lohia at the Sexton Building during Friday's announcement. The company opening a new plant in Decatur has roots in Nepal, where Orr served in the Peace Corps.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, with Indorama Polymers CEO Aloke Lohia at the Sexton Building during Friday's announcement. The company opening a new plant in Decatur has roots in Nepal, where Orr served in the Peace Corps.

Thai firm picks Decatur
Plastic container company to invest $160 million; plant to employ 100

By Bayne Hughes ∑ 340-2432

A Thailand-based company manufacturing a chemical used in plastic beverage containers announced Friday it will build a plant in Decatur.

Indorama Polymers Group announced an estimated $160.6 million initial investment in AlphaPet Inc. plant on 30 acres off Finley Island Road. The plant will employ about 100 workers.

Construction is expected to begin in October and the schedule calls for completion in September 2009. During peak construction, about 500 people will be working on the plant with an estimated construction employee payroll of $9.25 million.

The plant will be the largest producer of polyethylene tere- phthalate, also known as PET resin, in North America and the first such plant in Alabama.

Plant Manager Yashwant "Yash" Awasthi said the plant will have an initial estimated payroll of about $4.5 million with initial average annual wages of about $45,000, not including benefits.

Gov. Bob Riley attended the public announcement Friday at the Sexton Building. Decatur beat out Montreal, Canada, and Charleston, S.C., in the competition for the plant that will partner with BP Corp.

Introduced by Jeremy Nails, president and chief executive officer of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, Indorama Chief Executive Officer Aloke Lohia said Montreal was the most serious competition.

Lohia said Montreal was probably a better deal financially in the short term, but the governor, a partnership with BP and local officials' willingness to work with Indorama won the deal for Morgan County. The Industrial Board of Decatur approved a $324,888 annual abatement of non-educational property taxes for 10 years Friday morning in a called meeting at Harris, Caddell and Shanks law firm.

Riley and Lohia spoke several times by phone since March, including one at 2 a.m. Thailand time.

"Maybe he was more receptive at 2 a.m.," Riley joked, when asked about his role in attracting the company.

Riley 'very proactive'

"The governor was very proactive," Lohia said, "and he delivered on whatever he promised in our conversations. If he told me he would do something, he did it."

Lohia and his family started the company in Nepal in the early 1950s. He and state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, instantly connected because Orr spent time in Nepal with the Peace Corps.

The conversation about the new site began about two years ago when Lohia met with Luis Sierra, vice president Aromatics for BP America, at a restaurant in Buckhead, Ga.

AlphaPet is a new subsidiary of Indorama Polymers, headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand. The plant will have a capacity of 432,000 tons of PET resin. The unit will be adjacent to and will receive its purified terephthalic acid, or PTA, from BP's integrated Decatur para-
xylene/PTA facility on the Tennessee River.

Dave Harness, plant manager of Decatur's BP plant, said the new plant "secures BP's long-term future in Decatur." He said the new facility could lead toward BP investing another $15 million or $16 million in the Decatur plant.

"This is the first (customer) right on our doorstep," Harness said. "That will save BP and AlphaPet so much in transportation costs."

Indorama serves the U.S. West Coast from its Asian facilities. North America is a net importer of bottle-grade PET resin. Indorama owns and operates plants in Asia, Europe and North America, whose combined use of PET accounts for 90 percent of world demand. Indorama Group is the given name to the unconsolidated business of the Lohia family. Indorama Group also has business interests in PTA, wool, cement and petrochemicals.

Awasthi comes from Indorama subsidiary StarPet Inc. in Asheville, N.C., where he has lived for 18 months since moving from one of the company's plants in Indonesia. He has found a home in Decatur and his children will attend Julian Harris Elementary School.

"The South is great," Awasthi said. "It really feels like home now."

Schools to benefit from AlphaPet

Decaturís Industrial Development Board estimates the new AlphaPet Inc. plant on Finley Island Road will mean about $377,470 annually over a 10-year period for local school systems.

Morgan County will receive an estimated $255,590 per year and about $1.2 million from construction sales and use taxes in the next two years.

The plant is in Morgan County but not in the Decatur city limits. Decatur City Schools will receive about $48,263 per year from the new plant and about $66,600 in retail sales tax revenue from contractor employees during construction.

The board expects Decatur to receive about $32,400 in retail sales tax revenue from AlphaPet employees.

- Bayne Hughes

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