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Sweetwater County, WY Sees Multimillions in Investment

Simplot, Tronox, Tata, Bridger Power Plant invest in major projects

By Kevin Litwin on October 12, 2015

Simplot Fertilizer Plant at night
Rock Springs / Michael D. Tedesco

Several large companies are economic leaders in Sweetwater County, now even more so, thanks to recent multimillion-dollar investments.

J.R. Simplot Company is constructing an ammonia plant adjacent to its existing phosphate fertilizer complex in Rock Springs. The plant, scheduled for completion in late 2016, will supply ammonia that will be mixed with phosphate to produce fertilizer at J.R. Simplot’s facility in Rock Springs and its fertilizer plant in Pocatello, Idaho.

“After completion, we will be self-sufficient on ammonia, which is a key raw material in the production of fertilizer,” says Klaas Hutter, vice president of mining and manufacturing for Simplot’s AgriBusiness group. “The new plant will be able to produce 600 tons of ammonia per day.”

Trona for Tronox & Tata

Tronox Ltd. also is making a major investment in Sweetwater County. The Australia-based international mining company purchased FMC Corporation’s Alkali Chemicals division for $1.64 billion in 2015. That purchase gave Tronox ownership of the world’s largest trona mine, which is located in Green River.

Alkali Chemicals remains a stand-alone division of Tronox, and employs 900 people at the trona mine, which yields more than 4 million tons of trona each year. Trona is a mineral ore used to manufacture soda ash for products such as glass, paper, detergents, chemicals, baking soda, animal feed and food items. Alkali Chemicals is expected to generate about $800 million annually for Tronox, thanks to a strong global demand for soda ash.

Another Sweetwater County company investing millions of dollars is Tata Chemicals North America, which also mines and processes trona ore in Green River. The company’s existing trona mine spans 55 square miles, and TCNA celebrated 2015 by opening the new $26 million Shaft 7, a ventilation shaft that provides access to almost 1,000 miles of new rock face.

“It’s a complex piece of engineering and our largest capital expenditure in the past 20 years,” says McRae “Mac” Richardson, Tata’s Green River engineering superintendent.

The massive construction project involved about 10,000 yards of concrete for the shaft’s lining and foundation, and took four years to complete. TCNA has mined trona in Green River since 1968.

A County of Many Resources

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The Jim Bridger Power Plant, located just 30 miles northeast of Rock Springs, is undergoing a $500 million expansion that will retrofit the plant with environmental upgrades to meet EPA emission standards through 2030. The coal-burning power plant has a generating capability of 2,120 megawatts. About two-thirds of the coal supplied comes from the Jim Bridger Mine.

Dave Hanks, CEO with the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce, says there are many good reasons why large mining and chemical companies continue to invest in Sweetwater County.

“We are blessed with an abundance of coal, trona, natural gas, oil and uranium, to name a few, and we have a major transportation corridor that includes Union Pacific mainline rails and Interstate 80,” he says. “We also have a large workforce already trained in the mining sector, and Western Wyoming Community College has extensive training programs in these specific fields.”

Hanks adds that Sweetwater County has available water and land to accommodate future growth.

“In addition, Sweetwater County has a young population with large enrollments in our school districts,” he says. “Literally, our children are our future potential workforce.”

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