McARTHUR - Austin Powder has announced plans to build a $16.8 million manufacturing facility at its Red Diamond Plant in Vinton County.

McARTHUR Austin Powder has announced plans to build a $16.8 million manufacturing facility at its Red Diamond Plant in Vinton County.

The investment is a "vote of confidence" for the continuation of the plant in Vinton County, said plant manager Keith Mills, adding, "this secures the Red Diamond facility here."

"Austin Powder is a fixture in Vinton County," said County Economic Development Director Terri Featherolf. "We're very pleased that they are continuing to make investment in the area that will retain jobs, and potentially grow."

Austin Powder currently employs about 225 people, Mills said. The plant manufactures explosives for mining, construction and quarries.

"It's a job-neutral project for us," Mills said, explaining that current employees will be trained to operate the new facility, which will make material that the company currently buys elsewhere.

Mills said that Austin Powder obtains a component for explosives from decommissioned U.S. military and NATO weapons.

"That market is drying up," Mills said. "It's important for us to make our own materials."

Some incentives were offered in an effort to retain the jobs at the Red Diamond Plant.

Columbia Gas of Ohio's Jobs Growth Fund supplied the company with a $100,000 grant, and Mills said Austin Powder will receive about $200,000 through JobsOhio.

"We are extremely pleased that the company is making this significant investment, helping to ensure that it retains its competitive position in the marketplace and its ability to continue to provide good jobs to so many local workers," said John Molinaro, President and CEO of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG), the region's JobsOhio partner.

Last spring, the Red Diamond plant converted back to natural gas for its boilers, having relied on fuel oil for more than a decade. Mills said the boilers are now dual fuel.

The new manufacturing facility will have a large boiler.

"This project is going to require a significant amount of steam," Mills said. "It only makes sense financially to bring natural gas back to Red Diamond."

Mills said ground will be broken for the new facility in September or October, and it should become operational in the first half of 2015.

An event to announce the $16.8 million project was held Thursday, and was attended by local and state officials, as well as representatives of the county's elected officials in Congress, JobsOhio and APEG.