Opelousas: Governor Bobby Jindal and AgraTech International Inc. Chairman Richard DeMarco announced the company will renovate a former Opelousas bottling facility, creating 50 new direct jobs and making a $10 million capital investment. The biotech venture will convert seafood shell waste into commercial products for the automotive, defense and medical sectors. The new direct jobs will pay an average salary of $50,000, plus benefits, and LED estimates the project will result in an additional 51 new indirect jobs.
Raw shrimp, crawfish and crab shells will be converted into chitosan for products ranging from water-repellant coatings on windshields to enhanced sunscreen lotions, nasal sprays to treat nosebleeds, and dental membranes for implant surgery. In addition to a 37,500-square-foot facility in Opelousas, AgraTech International will establish a research partnership with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Governor Jindal said, “This announcement is great news for Acadiana and our entire state. The new facility will mill shrimp, crawfish and crab shells — waste that previously had to be discarded and added an additional cost to Louisiana’s seafood industry. Turning a negative into a positive for the Louisiana economy, AgraTech will convert these seafood shells into chitosan that will be used in new products for the medical, automotive and defense industries. AgraTech could have invested in other states, but chose Louisiana because of our strong business climate, incomparable workforce and our world-class seafood industry. The bottom line is that Agratech’s decision to invest here is not only good news for our economy and our workers, but also our seafood industry and for our higher education community.”
Based in New Jersey, AgraTech International secured a long-term lease on space at the former Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink bottling plant that closed three years ago in Opelousas. The site places the company within close reach of a 100 million-pound annual supply of crustacean waste. AgraTech also will conduct research activity at the University of Louisiana’s College of Engineering in Lafayette, where the company will provide instruction and research assistance to students and faculty in exchange for lab space.
“Chitosan production is a totally green endeavor: It is a natural, renewable, nontoxic and nonhazardous, biodegradable product,” said DeMarco, who’s also president and CEO of AgraTech International. “AgraTech will be the sole domestic commercial supplier of high-quality chitosan. From our Opelousas location, the company intends to remain in the vanguard of chitosan research, developing new chitosan-based products.”
In addition to medical applications, AgraTech will manufacture – and license the technology to produce – a chitosan-based, water-repellant coating permanently bonded to glass. Water-barrier applications in the automotive, construction, defense and optics sectors hold significant potential in what the company estimates is a more than $36 billion market. AgraTech and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are negotiating a research partnership agreement to enhance market applications for the company and research opportunities for the campus.
“The university is always seeking innovative partnerships to enhance the economic diversity and development of the state,” said President Joseph Savoie of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “The scientific work conducted by AgraTech complements research by our faculty. Arrangements such as this are beneficial for business, the university, the region and the state. When companies such as AgraTech have a campus presence, it enhances our ability to engage undergraduates, as well as graduate students, in the types of research that will lead to the creation of more jobs and further economic opportunities.”
Acadiana Economic Development and the St. Landry Economic Industrial Development District helped recruit AgraTech International to the Acadiana Region, and the company is expected to utilize Louisiana’s R&D Tax Credit, Enterprise Zone and Industrial Tax Exemption incentives.
“The seafood industry has long been an important part of Acadiana’s economy, providing a source of income for the fishermen and the seafood processors and served up as a main ingredient in our top-quality restaurants,” said Chairman Mike Tarantino of Acadiana Economic Development. “This industry has always sought avenues that will bring added value to their products. By utilizing a costly industry waste product, AgraTech brings a unique feature that makes sense both economically and environmentally.”
Renovation and equipping of the facility will begin in early 2013, with commercial operations planned by the end of the second quarter 2013. AgraTech will hire 10 people in its first year and increase its staff to 50 employees within five years.