Meredian has grand opening

Published 9:33 pm Friday, October 26, 2012

READY FOR PRODUCTION: Among those in attendance at Meredian’s grand opening Wednesday were, left to right, Meredian Vice President of Manufacturing Michael Smith, Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Rick McCaskill, Georgia State Rep. Jay Powell, Decatur County Commissioner Dr. Charles T. Stafford, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, Meredian President and co-founder Blake Lindsey, Meredian CEO and co-founder Dr. Daniel Carraway and Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds.|Brennan Leathers

Meredian, a privately-held local company, held a grand opening for what is now the world’s largest producer of bioplastics using a technology known as PHA biopolymers.

The PHA resins will be made using a technology Meredian acquired from Proctor & Gamble in 2007. PHA resins are made from renewable, natural resources utilizing a fermentation process. Meredian will ship out small plastic pellets to industrial customers, who will melt down the pellets and create a finished consumer product, president and co-founder Blake Lindsey explained.

In November, Meredian will begin shipping out its first orders from its 190,000-square-foot plant, which is located in the former American Fibers & Yarn facility at the Decatur County Industrial Park, off U.S. Highway 27 North.

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While Meredian isn’t ready to announce its customers, which are large global companies with brand-name recognition, its bioplastics will typically be used to make food service items in single-use packaging, Lindsey said.

PHA resins are biodegradable in soil, water or if discarded as litter, according to information provided by Meredian. In addition, they are approved for food contact and are environmentally friendly. The resins are made from agricultural products that will not compete with the food production market, according to the company. Products using Meredian’s PHA pellets will start appearing in the market in early 2013, Lindsey said.

Meredian’s pilot plant will produce 30 million pounds, or 15,000 tons, annually. Growth plans call for the plant to exceed 300,000 tons per year of production over the next few years, said CEO and co-founder Dr. Daniel Carraway.

There are currently 40 employees at Meredian, and the company expects to grow that by 150 percent within the next two years.

To date, there has been more than $32 million of investment in Meredian, and more than $200 million is projected by 2015.

Meredian raised $5 million of its funding for their pilot plant through the No Markets Tax Credits Program through the U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, according to U.S. House Rep. Sanford Bishop, who spoke at Thursday’s grand opening. Another $10 million came from a guaranteed U.S. Department of Agriculture loan provided as part of the federal government’s stimulus package of 2008, Bishop said.

“We’re happy to see the economy starting to come back,” Bishop said. “This plant uses technology that is on the cutting edge and has the potential to create many new jobs in this area.”

Lindsey said the Meredian team, which includes a number of scientists, engineers and plant maintenance experts, went around the world to find already-available manufacturing equipment that could be refurbished or refitted to meet the company’s needs.

“Eventually, any company will be able to get their hands on the state-of-the-art equipment we have here,” Lindsey. “But what they won’t be able to get their hands on is the dedication, experience and knowledge of our teammates.”

Georgia State House Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) said Meredian’s plant is an example of “synergy,” which he defined as a natural fit and balance, with Southwest Georgia.

“[Meredian] found certain benefits in locating their company here: we have a good, dependable workforce, we have water and agriculture is the heart and backbone of this area,” Powell said.

Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds, whom Meredian officials said played an important role in helping customers and investors believe in the company’s potential, said he was proud to welcome the company to Decatur County.

“Our young people can look to Meredian as an example of the rewards that a good education can bring,” Reynolds said. “Science and technology is the new frontier for our country … Meredian’s plant exists today because of the leadership and innovation that started right here in Bainbridge.”

“This facility is proof that Decatur County can rise to the 21st Century challenge,” said Dr. Charles Stafford, chairman of Decatur County Board of Commissioners.