GOTHENBURG, Nebraska — The founders of a local startup that will use electricity instead of natural gas to make “eco-friendlier” fertilizer closer to farmers announced plans Wednesday to invest $750 million in a new factory here.
Gov. Jim Pillen and a crowd of more than 300 people attended a celebration of “Project Meadowlark,” which local economic development boosters described as one of the largest investments in central or western Nebraska in years, at a manufacturing site along the Platte River. Pillen called the plant sustainable.
“It’s a big deal, and it’s going to help a wide swath of Nebraska producers,” Pillen said. “Everything we can do to decrease our costs and reduce the use of a gallon of diesel fuel or fossil fuels is good for the planet, and good for business.”
A crowd of more than 300 people listens to speakers announce plans for a new fertilizer factory in Gothenburg, Neb. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
Gothenburg Mayor Will Rahjes said his community, an hour west of Kearney just off Interstate 80, has long been a hub for agricultural businesses. He pointed to the nearby Frito Lay facility, which buys corn grown regionally to make chips.
He said the new fertilizer factory by JWC Gburg LLC and a new Wearparts factory for ag equipment about to come online will put Gothenburg on a path to new prosperity. The mayor said the growth also reinforces the need for new housing for workers.
“It truly is going to be a boom in the local economy,” Rahjes said. “On workforce and housing … those are top priorities, along with child care. We will continue building additional homes just as fast as we possibly can.”
State Sen. Teresa Ibach, who lives in nearby Sumner and co-sponsored Legislative Bill 249 on workforce housing this year, said smaller cities and local economic boosters need state help. Parts of LB 249 were amended into another bill, but Pillen line-item vetoed $40 million in funding. She said she’d bring back a bill next year.
Ibach said she understood that Pillen had to take a big-picture look at what the state could afford. But, she said, the need for additional housing is pressing.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but when you have success stories like this one to build off of, you can sell anything,” she said.
JWC Gburg co-founder Joshua Westling said he was proud to be growing a business in Nebraska. He called the excitement around the factory “palpable.” Westling started the company with fellow former fertilizer executive Chris Hayhurst.
Mike Bacon of the Gothenburg Improvement Company, who emceed the ceremony Wednesday, credited federal, state and local officials and public power districts for making the project possible. He said construction would take about two years.
Organizers explained what will make Meadowlark different: To produce fertilizer more responsibly, organizers said, the factory will use liquid CO2 waste from ethanol or power plants, water from Gothenburg’s wastewater plant, some groundwater, and electricity from renewable sources.
Nebraska Public Power District CEO Tom Kent, who spoke during the kickoff, said the new factory would require about a $100 million investment by NPPD to supply renewable energy to the plant. He called the spending “worthwhile.”
The plant expects to manufacture up to 1,000 tons per day of ammonium nitrate, 400 tons a day of ammonium thiosulphate and 20 million gallons a year of diesel exhaust fluid. The project will receive federal and state help from tax incentives and grant funds from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a regional “hydrogen hub.”
No breakdown of the funding was immediately available.
The new plant plans to hire 50 full-time workers once construction is complete. According to a slide shared with the crowd, it expects to help create another 246 local and regional jobs indirectly.
Ibach said she was excited to see what the factory will do. She said she looks at every economic development project’s purpose, process and payoff. The new plant was a yes on all three, she said.
“This just gives local farmers a way to help them with their bottom line and help them be successful,” she said. “It’s hard to make it (in farming and ranching), and this is really going to be a benefit.”
“Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen touts ‘sustainable’ fertilizer factory headed to Gothenburg” by Aaron Sanderford from the Nebraska Examiner is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. A link to the original article can be found here: https://nebraskaexaminer.com/2023/06/28/nebraska-gov-jim-pillen-touts-sustainable-fertilizer-factory-headed-to-gothenburg/”