Searsport chemical company expanding, joining forces with Mexican firm

David Colter, left, the newly-named CEO of GAC Chemical Corp. in Searsport, stands next to James Poure, the chairman and founder of the manufacturing organization.
David Colter, left, the newly-named CEO of GAC Chemical Corp. in Searsport, stands next to James Poure, the chairman and founder of the manufacturing organization. Buy Photo
Posted May 24, 2013, at 6:15 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — A chemical manufacturing plant at the end of a dead-end road in Searsport and a Mexican chemical company are joining forces.

Dalegip America Inc., based north of Mexico City with U.S. headquarters in Houston, will construct a total of 5,000 square feet of production space at GAC Chemical Corp. to manufacture speciality chemicals for the paper industry.

Plastic pigment, a product used to manufacture coated paper, will be made at the new facility. When the plant opens later this year, the companies will hire up to a dozen workers, local officials say.

“For a company our size, that’s significant,” David Colter, GAC’s new chief executive officer, said Wednesday in a press conference at the Searsport company headquarters.

Though Searsport Town Manager James Gillway said this week that he did not know what impact the new facility would have on the community’s tax base, he called GAC a very good neighbor.

“Inevitably, we’re going to benefit, if not through taxation, then through employment,” Gillway said. “We’re definitely 100 percent behind that.”

Colter and James Poure, the chairman, founder and outgoing CEO of the privately held GAC Chemical, said that the Mexican outfit had been looking for a regional manufacturer in Maine for the last several years to expand its operations.

“We’re looking forward to this collaborative partnership with GAC Chemical in Maine,” Manuel Rivadeneyra, president of Dalegip America, said this week in a press release. “[It will] bring our product technology to new customers.”

The Searsport company employs 62 people who make tons of different kinds of chemicals each year, including ammonium sulfate and liquid aluminum sulfate for water treatment.

Chemicals have been manufactured here since the early 1920s, when it was the home of Summers Fertilizer Co. Poure founded GAC Chemical in the Midwest in 1978 and purchased the Maine manufacturing plant in 1994. Searsport became GAC’s headquarters in 2003.

At that time, nearly 90 percent of its business was related to papermaking. But Maine’s changing economy forced a number of paper mills to close and the plant had to diversify. Now, 50 percent of its business stems from papermaking, Colter said.

“We’re getting creative. Finding niche markets and capitalizing on infrastructure,” he said. “Trying to get the word out that we are here.”

A popular chemical made at the 153-acre Searsport site is ammonium sulfate, found in yeast, bread, beer, penicillin and baby formula. GAC Chemical is the largest producer of high-purity ammonium sulfate in the country. The company ships the dry crystals nationwide and overseas.

Part of that success is because of the low-carb food craze of recent years.

“We have supplied Fleischmann’s Yeast with our product, and when Michelob Ultra became very popular, Fleischmann was approached by Anheuser-Busch people,” Poure said. “How do you accelerate fermentation?”

The yeast company pointed the beer makers in the direction of the Searsport manufacturing plant and its high-purity ammonium sulfate.

“They were able to really speed up fermentation of Michelob Ultra,” Colter said. “Now they do that with all their products.”

GAC Chemical is also involved in contract manufacturing, in which an outside company provides it with a recipe and raw materials and it manufactures a product. It has a fleet of 25 tanker trucks used for deliveries and is the only facility in the state that does industrial chemical manufacturing and distribution.

When Gov. Paul LePage visited the site in 2011, he called GAC “Maine’s chemical company,” a moniker that is proving to be true, company officials said.

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