For the City Times
PORT EDWARDS — ERCO Worldwide’s Port Edwards, Wisconsin plant first opened for business 50 years ago, today, on June 14, 1967. Today, the Port Edwards facility is one of the safest producers of chlor-alkali products in North America.
Its 88 employees produce chlorine, caustic soda/lye (sodium hydroxide), caustic potash, and hydrochloric acid—vital chemicals for the pulp and paper, food processing, agriculture, electronic, de-icing, petroleum and water treatment industries.
“Many consumers use products every day that likely required the chemical production process that takes place at our Port Edwards plant,” said Mark Swenson, plant manager. “Over the last 50 years, we have evolved from a manual process to a highly automated production system. Our technically-minded employees now use remote monitoring to visualize what physical actions are taking place. Their pride and ownership in their work and their diligence in maintaining safe, clean operations have been a big factor in sustaining our success for so many years.”
Swenson and his team are proud of the fact that the Port Edwards plant plays a significant role in America’s quality of life, hygiene, water treatment, safety and food production. The chlorine produced at the plant is a vital component for safe drinking water and is used in household bleach, pesticides, polymers, synthetic rubbers, and refrigerants.
Caustic soda is used in the pulp, paper and bleach-making processes. Caustic potash is needed for alkaline batteries, fertilizer, airport runway de-icers and semiconductors. Hydrochloric acid is used in oil wells and the production of gelatin and other food additives.
Since purchasing the plant in 2005, ERCO Worldwide, Toronto, Canada, has invested approximately $200 million in technology to improve efficiency, air quality and safety. Edward Bechberger, President ERCO Worldwide, stated that the company’s decision to acquire the Port Edwards facility was based on the plant’s safety record, the quality of its leadership and employees, and the additional product diversity it provided.
In 2009, ERCO Worldwide expanded the plant’s production capacity by 30%, reduced energy costs and significantly improved air quality by converting to a mercury-free, membrane cell technology at an investment of $135 million. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank applauded ERCO Worldwide at the time, stating:
“ERCO’s efforts—which involved a major voluntary investment in their Port Edwards plant have demonstrated that what’s good for the environment can be very smart for business.”
The Port Edwards plant was designated “Responsible Care Certified” by the American Chemistry Council in 1990 and continues its longstanding commitment to this international environmental, health, safety and security initiative as part of ERCO Worldwide. The plant received the Friend of the Environment Award from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in 1992 and 2010.
The Port Edwards plant was originally built by Wyandotte Chemical in 1967 to produce 150 tons of chlorine and caustic soda each day and was a welcomed resource for the booming Wisconsin pulp and paper industry. Three years later, BASF purchased the plant and expanded the plant’s capacity to 200 tons of chlorine per day.
In 1980, the Port Edwards plant was acquired by Vulcan Materials and began diversifying production with the introduction of hydrochloric acid for the food processing market and potassium hydroxide (known as caustic potash), a key ingredient in fertilizers for the agricultural market. During the next 25 years, with more products to offer, the plant expanded shipments to new markets throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Since its purchase by ERCO Worldwide in 2005, the Port Edwards plant has continued to expand its production capacity to serve its customers throughout the U.S. and Canada—while strengthening its commitment to its local community. The 2009 expansion enlarged the plant site from 34 acres to 99 acres. To accommodate the expansion, ERCO Worldwide assisted with relocating and rebuilding a new Environmental Learning Center for Port Edwards School District. Employees at the Port Edwards plant and ERCO Worldwide are leading supporters of the United Way of Inner Wisconsin. The plant has helped fund the Nekoosa STEM Charter School, the Regional Hazmat Team, area fire departments, the Nekoosa Senior Center and numerous other local projects.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished here in the past, and well-prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead,” Swenson said. “Our corporate mission is to promote a sustainable business culture that creates economic value, supports a healthy environment and improves the lives of others now and in the future. Our employees have lived that mission here for the past 50 years—and it’s certainly a proven formula for moving forward.”