A look inside Huntsman’s multi-billion dollar Port Neches facility

Check presentation, expansion unit, and Huntsman Corp. control room

Huntsman Corporation chairman, founder and billionaire philanthropist Jon Huntsman, along with his son and company president Peter Huntsman, treated U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, Huntsman Corp. board member and Beaumont philanthropist Wayne Reaud and other local dignitaries like Lamar University president emeritus Dr. Jimmy Simmons and current president Dr. Kenneth Evans, to a tour of the multi-billion dollar company’s Port Neches petrochemical facility and new ethylene oxide unit Tuesday, Sept. 1.

With the addition of the unit, the Huntsman Port Neches plant is soon to be the largest single site producer of ethylene oxide (EO) in the U.S.

“This is a very special day for us,” said Peter Huntsman, before specifically mentioning the presence of Rep. Weber and Dr. Evans. “Dr. Simmons, it was during your tenure that we were able to establish this relationship,” he added.

“We have government, we have education, we have philanthropy, and we have business. That needs to be the underpinning of society. That is the pipeline of our community. It makes up employment, education and policy. It is through this that we are able to compete around the world.”

The Huntsman Corporation has upheld the business part of Peter’s equation for a successful society, grossing a $1.9 billion profit in 2014, according to the company’s annual report. The Port Neches plant’s two existing EO units and a $150 million expansion unit slated for startup before the end of the year will give the 2,800-acre site the capability of producing around 3.8 million pounds of EO per day (approximately 3.8 billion per year), with the new F8 unit adding 800,000 pounds of EO daily.

Janice Latz, vice president of operations for Performance Products, said the company’s new EO capacity should help allay customer concerns about having access to sufficient EO to support their growth.

“The Port Neches EO reactor will enable us to utilize currently untapped derivative capacity within our assets and meet future needs to match our customers’ growth,” she said.

Huntsman Corp. purchased the ethylene oxide unit from the Beaumont-based company PD Glycol after the unit was flooded during Hurricane Ike in 2008. After performing extensive engineering assessments and environmental, health and safety due diligence, Huntsman dismantled the unit in Beaumont and transported the components down the Neches River by barge for installation at its Port Neches facility.

EO is used industrially for the production of detergents, thickeners, solvents, plastics and various organic chemicals such as ethylene glycol, an industrial compound found in many consumer products, including automotive antifreeze, hydraulic brake fluids, ballpoint pens, solvents, paints, films and cosmetics.

The nation’s largest manufacturers, like Procter & Gamble, for example, utilize Huntsman products, as do companies all over the globe, said Dale Stagg, manufacturing excellence coordinator.

“The company’s investment … in the plant’s expansion will support the local economy and much-needed employment in Port Neches and Jefferson County,” said Congressman Weber, who represents the 14th District of Texas, including Jefferson County. “The Port Neches facility is Huntsman’s largest, and this expansion makes the plant the largest ethylene oxide manufacturer in the country.

“We’re on the verge of an energy renaissance. With the geopolitical events taking place worldwide, we want America to be strong. We want America to be energy independent. We want America to be in the forefront of manufacturing. That all translates to stability for families, for jobs in this area. The Huntsman family is a perfect example of that.”

Upon completion, this project is expected to add 10 to 15 full-time positions to Huntsman’s staff. In addition to EO, the facility’s 600 workers and 500 contractors, which receive an $85 million annual payroll, produce propylene oxide (PO), which is used in the manufacturing of thousands of everyday products including insulation and memory foam.

“I’m very happy to represent some 60,000 full-time associates and 15,000 contractors … that generate nearly $50 billion of … goods and services in over 100 locations in countries around the world,” Peter Huntsman said. “(The Port Neches) site exports products all throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America as well as provides plenty of output throughout the North American continent.”

Reaping the benefits and giving them back

What separates Huntsman Corporation from many other companies on the Fortune 500 list, however, is its willingness to give so much back to the community. Peter Huntsman subscribes to the philosophy of his father, who once told the New York Times that he suggested to Warren Buffet that billionaires should give more of their bank accounts to charitable causes.

“My suggestion was to give 80 percent away,” Huntsman told the New York newspaper.

Peter Huntsman described his father as a “man who believes in people.”

“He is a philanthropist, and education is very important to him,” Peter Huntsman said.

Tuesday, the Huntsman family proved yet again that their word is gold.

Lamar University, ranked No. 2 in a Washington Post survey using Payscale.com numbers grading the nation’s top engineering programs in the country based on graduates’ mid-career earnings, was the latest recipient of the Huntsmans’ benevolence. Many of the Lamar graduates the Washington Post described currently work for the Huntsman Corporation, and according to Jon Huntsman, they are its heart and soul.

Tuesday, Huntsman Corp. presented a $1 million check to Dr. Evans and three Lamar University alumni employed by the company — Bria Thibodeaux, a Lamar chemical engineering graduate, who works as a process engineer; Josh Matthews, a chemical engineering graduate, also a process engineer; and Brian Hurtado, a chemistry graduate, now a Huntsman operations manager.

“It’s great to be a part of this company and see them give back to the school I went to,” said Thibodeaux.

The $1 million is the fourth installment of a total donation of $5 million by Huntsman to help fund the Wayne A. Reaud Honors College at Lamar, Dr. Evans said.

“This whole project wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Jon Huntsman and Wayne Reaud,” he said. “They made a significant contribution to this building and this program.”

Wayne Reaud has served on the Huntsman Corporation board longer than any other member, according to Jon Huntsman, and is a philanthropist in his own right.

Reaud, who received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Lamar in 1971, told The Examiner, “Lamar really gave me an opportunity that a poor kid like me would not normally have. Without it being here, I may not have gone to college. I am very thankful and appreciative of Lamar.”

Evans said he anticipates construction of the 45,000-square-foot Honors College to be completed in May, adding that the honors program is now over 400 students strong.

“Only the best” will be part of the college, Jon Hunstman said.

The building will also house the administration and information technology offices and a variety of other support services for the campus, Evans said.

Lamar’s will become the eighth honors college in Texas, joining those at Baylor University, Texas Tech, the University of Houston, Prairie View A&M, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Not many schools have one,” Jon Huntsman said.

The additional development of Lamar honors education through the Reaud Honors College will further help students succeed in their pursuit of continuing education to become highly successful graduates and leaders in the community. Many of these will most likely stay in the community, some even becoming valuable members of the Huntsman team.

“They start here in Jefferson County. They come here for training,” Jon Huntsman said. “There’s no better place on Earth for us to operate than Jefferson County … and there’s no better school than Lamar to train. … We started negotiating for Texaco Chemical in 1992 (where the Huntsman Port Neches plant is currently located) and acquired it in 1994. For the past 20-25 years, we have just considered this home. We want to be friends. We want to be neighbors. We want to do what we can.”

Peter Huntsman said when the company purchased the old facility from Texaco Chemical some 20 years ago, it had seen its better days. Some questioned if the company would be able to make it work.

But to those who doubted the site’s potential, Jon Huntsman replied, “We make rust work. It’s the people that make the difference.”