A Cleveland company that produces the white pigment that is used in paint, plastic and other products is planning to open a $50 million plant in Lackawanna within the next 18 months to two years.
White Rock Pigments currently is looking at existing manufacturing sites in Lackawanna for a factory that could employ 85 to 100 workers in its initial stage of production, with employment growing further if the venture is successful and the company adds a second production line that currently is envisioned, said Leon Polott, the chief executive officer of White Rock’s parent company, 5iTech.
The project received a boost this week when state officials approved $1 million in funding through the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. The funding would come through Empire State Development and also would include tax credits through the Excelsior Jobs Program. The company also is expected to seek low-cost hydropower through the New York Power Authority.
“We’re definitely talking about existing buildings with existing infrastructure,” Polott said. “We want to move forward as quickly as possible.”
White Rock was launched in 2007 as a joint venture between paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams Co. and Altair Nanotechnologies, a supplier of advanced ceramic nanomaterials. 5iTech acquired the business in 2010.
Polott said White Rock uses an environmentally friendly manufacturing process for producing titanium dioxide that was developed by those companies over the course of 15 years, at a cost of more than $45 million.
“This process is a major new development in the way to manufacture this product,” said Polott, a Buffalo native who is a graduate of the Park School of Buffalo.
Beyond his ties to the region, Polott said “a big motivator” for White Rock to open a plant in Lackawanna was the potential to obtain low-cost electricity through the New York Power Authority.
The access to a wide range of “easy and robust” transportation options, from railroads and highways to shipping, also was a factor that worked in favor of the Lackawanna location.
The availability of a pool of workers with technical skills and manufacturing experience also was a positive for Lackawanna, he said.
“Buffalo is an excellent location for us,” Polott said.
White Rock would like to have the Lackawanna factory start producing white pigment sometime between the summer of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, he said.
If all goes well, White Rock officials envision a second production line at the Lackawanna facility. “That’s not there yet, but we hope to have it be at least as large as the first line,” Polott said.
Laura Magee, an Empire State Development spokeswoman, said the project fits with the strategic economic development plan developed by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, which places a priority on advanced manufacturing and encourages investment in existing facilities and innovative products and processes.
“The project will bring a profitable new manufacturing business to Western New York,” she said. “It fits with the development council’s targeted advanced manufacturing industry sector.”
Titanium dioxide is the material that is widely used to give products, from paint and plastics to textiles, food and pharmaceuticals, their white color.
“Anything that is white is probably white because it has titanium dioxide pigment in it,” Polott said. “It is a very strong and robust market.”