2017-05-03 / Featured / Front Page

Tranlin delays $2 billion paper mill

New technology overseas will slow county project
By Peter Galuszka

A showcase, $2 billion paper mill planned for eastern Chesterfield County will be delayed as the Chinese-owned company incorporates new technology overseas.

An official with Tranlin Inc., which is also known as Vastly, told the Observer that the delay is due to the parent company’s recent, unexpected success with a new “pulping, paper making and biostimulant fertilizer manufacturing facility in China.”

“Early indications from performance testing show that there will be significant efficiencies that will impact all aspects of Tranlin’s U.S. business plans,” Lisa Randall, associate director of corporate communications for Tranlin, said in an emailed statement.

Shandong Tranlin Paper Company Ltd., Tranlin’s parent, will be “redeploying resources” as it incorporates the new technology, Randall said. The Chesterfield mill was originally expected to be “fully operational” by 2020; Randall declined to offer a revised timeline.

First announced in 2014, the proposed paper mill has long been touted as representing the largest investment by a Chinese-owned company in U.S. history. The proposed plant, which would use cleaner, more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes at an 850-acre site off Willis Road near the James River, is expected to employ 2,000 people.

Garrett Hart, head of the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority, said that the project will still move ahead, but the opening time frame will be later – from 2020 to 2022.

“We had hoped to have a site plan this month, but it’s more likely to be four months from now,” he said. One issue is that the new technology that the company is installing in China will also be used in Chesterfield, Hart said, which will affect the environmental permits needed to operate.

Hart added that there have been layoffs at Tranlin, but he didn’t know how many or how large the labor force is at the moment.

The current technology that had been planned for the Chesterfield plant was called “Generation 2.5 Technology.” The newer plant being developed in China is using “Generation Three Technology,” Randall said.

“We expect all aspects of our business plans to be impacted, but will not have specific information until we thoroughly research and review our Generation Three findings,” Randall wrote.

“After start-up of its newest facility in China, the company wants to be able to incorporate improved efficiencies into its U.S. business plans,” Randall added. “The timeline for our U.S. operations has been extended until we complete further research around our Generation Three Technology.”

This is not the only obstacle to beset the planned paper mill during the last year. In late March, Tranlin announced that Jerry Zhiyuan Peng, who had pushed the Chesterfield project through from its inception, had stepped down as chief executive.

He was replaced by Dong “Donald” Lan, who is also president of Tranlin Company Ltd., and has served in various positions for Shandong Tranlin Paper Company in China.

 At that time, the company reassured local, state and corporate officials that the project would press forward. “We are working closely with local and state officials on necessary steps to move us closer to construction of our facility,” a company official said at the time.  

Heather Fluit, a spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, told the Observer in March that state officials have been in regular dialogue with Tranlin officials. “While the company has been very upfront with us about delays, we have no reason to doubt the investment won’t occur,” Fluit said.

It’s also unclear how the delay will impact the nearly $60 million in state performance grants and other financial incentives state officials used to lure the company to Virginia. Last year, Tranlin deferred receiving the first $2 million installment of a $20 million state performance grant due to delays and missed benchmarks for capital investment and job creation. The delays in the project, the company said last year, were partly due to complications in applying for more than 20 environmental permits.

Hart said that officials from his office met with Tranlin last week, but they did not know in advance about the company’s May 2 announcement.

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