Dearing Mayor Sean Kelley had good reason to be in a good mood last week. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Advanced Primary Minerals, just inside the Dearing city limits.
"It's not every day a big industry comes to a small town, so I'm very excited for this day," Mayor Kelley said.
Approximately 85 people attended the ceremony, including Dearing residents and council members, and McDuffie County and Thomson dignitaries. Hors d'oeuvres and drinks were served under a tent outside the plant, which sits on a few acres of Eubank Lumber Co. property. Tours of the facility were available after the ribbon cutting ceremony.
"You'll have to pardon us, but we have to work at holding back our chests because we're so proud," said Ken MacDonald, the CEO and president of APM. "This is the first processing plant built in Georgia in 35 years ... I want to thank the people in Dearing and in McDuffie County for their support in getting us going. And of course, I want to thank the Eubank family. We're here largely because of their support."
A kaolin company tried to come to McDuffie County in 2006, but withdrew its application after local residents protested the possibility of trucking traffic, dust and noise.
Mr. MacDonald said the APM plant will not have any of those problems because the kaolin is processed right on the property. Currently, the plant processes kaolin mined from 80 acres on Tudor Road. Mr. MacDonald said there is more than 25 million tons of kaolin in McDuffie County.
The company will expand to other areas of the county in a few years. When it does, Mr. MacDonald said, a new process has been developed by Vice President of Operations David Avant that will slurry the clay through a pipeline to the Dearing processing facility. The 10-year, two-phase development should result in more than 90 jobs.
Although the plant currently employs fewer than 10, Mayor Kelley said the town of Dearing and McDuffie County are receiving an economic boost from the plants' large utility expenses.
With APM still in the start-up phase, Mr. MacDonald said they are running only dry circuits right now, but should begin wet circuits in a couple of weeks. He said the kaolin is being shipped out in bulk, one-ton bags, with 19-20 bags on a truckload.
The McDuffie County kaolin is a high-quality kaolin, Mr. MacDonald said, that is superior to sedimentary kaolin. The goal of APM is not volume, but to produce niche products that big companies cannot.
The plant currently is processing two types of kaolin -- one for ceramic toilets and sinks, and another, low-oxide formula for ceramic tile.