The old Avondale shipyard is getting it first replacement company – dealing in palm oil. Diversification of industry in New Orleans.

The Avondale Shipyard site on the west bank of Jefferson Parish is in the running to land its first major tenant, a new palm oil processing facility, according to several sources familiar with the matter. If it comes to fruition, the new plant would take virgin palm oil harvested in tropical areas of the world, process it and then ship it to customers who would use it or refine it further. Palm oil is one of the world’s most commonly used plant-based oils, found in a wide array of consumer products including food, soap and beauty items. But its desirability has also led to controversy. In Asia, where most palm oil is produced, the expansion of palm oil plantations has led to widespread deforestation and other environmental concerns. The United States is one of the world’s biggest palm oil consumers.

Top Vegetable Oils wants a processing plant in the US and is considering many sites, including New Orleans.

Florida-based Top Vegetable Oils is considering building a processing plant in the United States, Top Vegetable Oils’ Chief Operating Officer Luis Corredor said in a statement Thursday. “We are exploring the feasibility of a U.S. processing facility to support the food services industry,” Corredor said. “We are completing due diligence at several potential sites including one in the metropolitan New Orleans region.” Corredor did not disclose where the other potential sites were. Several sources confirmed Avondale was the New Orleans-area site. If the deal goes through, it could be the first major anchor tenant at Avondale Shipyards, which once was Louisiana’s largest employer but has been mostly dormant since the shipyard shut down in 2014. In 2018, logistics company T. Parker Host, along with Hilco Redevelopment Partners, formed Avondale Marine to purchase the site from Huntington Ingalls and turn it into a logistics hub.

The site has not been developed as quickly as desired.

Months of high water in the Mississippi River, combined with the pandemic and the complexities of rehabilitating the 254-acre site, have slowed redevelopment efforts. Earlier this year, T. Parker Host CEO Adam Anderson touted the renovations the company had made, including a new dock, improved ramps over the levee and expanded storage capacity. The site, he said, was on the verge of being able to deliver on the promises made when the company bought it. A palm oil processing facility would be one of the first signs that those hopes are coming to fruition. Hurdles remain, however. Palm oil, while extremely popular, is often milled and refined from its virgin state in the countries where it is harvested. The type of plant under consideration, where virgin oil is refined into a more usable form, would be among the first of its kind in the United States, according to a source familiar with the talks but not authorized to discuss them publicly. The final product produced at the shipyard could be shipped to customers who could then refine it further for their particular uses.

Putting the plant here would pose some problems and any environmental ones have not been raised yet. Therre must be something put in the air but with today’s technology these should be mitigated.

Putting the processor in the United States would likely result in increased labor expenses and other costs. The company would also have to negotiate maritime and rail shipping rates for the Avondale site. If built, it would be the second palm oil processor in the New Orleans area. Fuji Oils began operations at a $70 million plant earlier this year at International-Matex Tank Terminals in Avondale. Getting a second palm oil facility in Jefferson Parish is part of a concerted strategy, according to Jerry Bologna, executive director of Jefferson Parish’s economic development agency, JEDCO. “Food manufacturing is an important and growing cluster” in Jefferson Parish, Bologna said. Such projects are especially valuable “when they serve to continue the transition and repurposing of the Avondale site.”

From building ships to processing palm oil. A big transition but it reflects the economy of today.

Palm oil to occupy part of the Avondale shipyard?
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