Unfinished Augusta pigment plant will have new owner before completion

The pigment plant being built near Augusta Regional Airport will likely belong to a different company by the time it is finished.

Chemical maker Huntsman Corp. announced Tuesday that it will pay $1.1 billion in cash to buy two business units from Rockwood Holdings, including the division that is constructing a $115 million plant on Doug Barnard Parkway.

The Huntsman acquisition is expected to be completed sometime in 2014. February 2015 is the targeted starting date for the facility, which will make synthetic colorants used in construction, coatings, concrete and plastics. The facility will employ between 80 and 100 people.

Andrew Ross, the president of Rockwood Performance Additives, said the acquisition “in no way impacts the continued construction and commissioning of the plant.”

The iron oxide pigment production plant is the first such facility to be built in the U.S. in nearly 35 years.

Ross said the construction is on schedule. Workers on the site are preparing the ground and foundation. He said there will be a ramp up of construction workers in the coming months.

The project, announced in 2011, underwent a lengthy design schedule and did not get started until July. Construction plans were slowed by the wet spring. Augusta beat out five other cities in the Southeast to win the plant.

“Huntsman is a good company,” said Walter Sprouse, executive director of the Augusta Economic Development Authority, which was involved in the deal to attract Rockwood to Augusta.

Sprouse was not worried for the future of the facility. “The transaction is the next step in their long-term strategy for the pigments business,” he said.

Huntsman’s companies make products for industries including plastics, automotive, construction, technology and packaging. Rockwood Holdings, based in Princeton, N.J., makes specialty chemicals and advanced materials for customers including the auto, electronics and construction industries.

Under the terms of the agreement Huntsman will pay approximately $1.1 billion in cash and assume unfunded pension liabilities estimated at $225 million to acquire the performance additives and titanium dioxide divisions. Titanium dioxide is a building block in white paint and coatings.

“This acquisition provides a unique opportunity to unlock value within our pigments business and builds on the strong improvements we have made to its competitiveness,” said chief executive Peter Huntsman. “We will become the second largest global producer of (titanium dioxide) and inorganic color pigments.”

Huntsman plans to pursue a public offering of the newly combined pigments business within two years of the deal’s completion, which is expected to happen by mid 2014.

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