Driving toward Mount Hope, past the U.S. 19 exit, visitors are greeted by a hulking structure which once held a Georgia Pacific plant — a plant that has sat vacant for nearly 10 years.
On Wednesday, that vacancy was ended by Carbon Activated — a producer and distributor of activated carbon, a substance that is best known for its use in the purification of drinking water, wastewater and air that is produced by carbonizing wood, coconut shells or high-quality coal inside of high-temperature furnaces.
The company's owner, Lionel Perera, and his family were joined by local, regional, state and federal officials for the Thursday announcement.
"Now I have a lot of work to do and it's not an easy task, but it's not a new thing to me just to expand and continue," Perera said.
According to Perera, he has been involved in the activated carbon business in the United States for 26 years. For 18 years prior to that, he worked for the largest carbon company in Sri Lanka.
He explained that the process creates microscopic bubbles with the carbonized product which can capture impurities such as chemicals and other substances.
While its major use is in purification, Perera said the substance is also used in gold capture and in products such as toothpaste and cosmetics.
Carbon Activated manufactures activated carbon from coconut shells in Sri Lanka. According to Perera, the company is the largest importer of the substance in the United States from sources in East Asia and India.
While the new Mount Hope facility will begin its life as a distribution and servicing location, Perera has high hopes for the facility.
According to the company owner, in approximately a year to a year and a half, the Mount Hope facility will expand to a manufacturing facility which will make Carbon Activated one of only three major manufacturers of activated carbon in the United States.
"If everything goes good, roughly per year we're going to consume about 25,000 to 35,000 tons of coal carbon and produce about 10,000 tons of activated carbon," Perera said.
Perera predicts 10 to 20 new jobs will be available for salespersons and technicians, almost immediately, to handle distribution and service. Another 60 to 70 jobs could be on the horizon once the facility becomes a manufacturing point.
He said that the choice to come to Mount Hope was made easy by the proximity to the type of coal he needs and by incentives that his company received from the West Virginia Economic Development Office, including a loan and machinery purchase incentives.
While the deal is done, the process was a long one.
Perera said that he began the search for a facility more than five years ago and was heavily courted by officials from Kentucky and Ohio.
Perera applauded the work of the West Virginia Development Office, specifically mentioning Tiffany Ellis-Williams, a manager of business development with the office, who the business owner said was persistent while remaining humble.
The business owner also thanked Michael Graney, the executive director of the state's development office.
While congratulating Perera on the purchase of the plant, Graney saved the greatest congratulations for a much larger group.
"Congratulations to West Virginia," Graney said, adding that this particular deal is a special one for him as one of his first meeting was with Perera after he took over the development office approximately six months ago.
"It's also special to me because I grew up right here," Graney said, adding that he played on the exact location in Mount Hope as a child.
The mayor of Mount Hope, Michael Kessinger, also shared his pleasure with the company moving into town.
"It feels great," the mayor said. "It's exciting to see new things coming."
Kessinger shared that while the facility had sat empty for quite some time, he believed that it would create interest because of its location, its access to the railroad and to the interstate and because of the number of utilities that the city could handle from a business.
"We felt like this property was always a diamond in the rough," Kessinger said.
The mayor said the reborn facility would mean opportunities and jobs for the town and that new businesses will be able to emerge.
While Mount Hope was born due to the coal industry and has suffered from its downturn, Kessinger believes the application of activated carbon will not only buoy existing coal jobs a bit, but will serve Mount Hope as an industry for generations.
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