Officials break ground on billion dollar fertilizer plant in Lee - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Officials break ground on billion dollar fertilizer plant in Lee County

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LEE COUNTY, Ia. (WGEM) -

On a day when Siemens cut ties with 400 employees, Lee County quickly turned the page on a new economic opportunity.

Iowa Fertilizer Company broke ground Monday afternoon on its billion dollar plant near Wever.

Over the next three years, it will generate 25-hundred construction jobs and then 165 high paying permanent positions...all in a county dealing with the state's highest unemployment rate.

Iowa soil is used to producing the most corn in the U.S, and that also makes the state the top consumer of fertilizer.

But now, this soil will soon be home to the country's first natural gas-based fertilizer plant in nearly 25 years, saving Iowa farmers 740-million dollars a year from importing fertilizer.

Governor Terry Branstad says, "Agriculture is a very important part of our economy, and this is a long term investment that's not only going to create great jobs here in Lee County in construction and permanently, but it's also going to make a real difference for farmers in producing corn."

Orascom Construction Industries says the plant will produce up to two million tons of fertilizer every year.

And it wants to be a good neighbor.  Addressing concerns of local residents about living next to a fertilizer plant, CEO Nassef Sawiris says state of the art technology on emissions reductions will make this plant like no other.

"What we have contracted here is a plant that does not exist today in America. This is the latest technology, the safest technology. We've adopted measures that haven't been taken, it might actually be the safest and cleanest plant in the world," says Sawiris.

But the biggest benefit will be on the economic level. Unemployment in Lee County hovered around eight percent in September. But on this project alone, construction will generate 25-hundred jobs over the next 35 months, and then comes the 165 permanent jobs paying about 26 dollars an hour.

Larry Kruse, a member of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, says "there will also be ancillary jobs that will come with that, and that will help us to reduce our unemployment, raise our employment, bring the economic boost that comes with that."

Construction is expected to complete by 2015.

Orascom says Lee County was always its first choice, although the current location was not.

It moved closer to Wever to reduce the risk of a flood threat.

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