Corbett Courts Chemical Maker Braskem In Brazil

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When Gov. Tom Corbett spoke with reporters by phone from Sao Paulo Tuesday, he was sitting in the headquarters of an international company with a growing foothold in Pennsylvania.

The Brazilian company Braskem S.A. has been buying up chemical assets in the United States, as it pushes a strategy of international growth. It bought out Sunoco Chemicals in 2010, turning its old Philadelphia offices into a new Braskem U.S. headquarters. The purchase included Sunoco’s research center on Second Avenue in Oakland and a plastics plant in West Virginia. Braskem later bought Sunoco’s plastics unit in Marcus Hook, Delaware County, a deal Corbett helped broker.

“They have a very good feeling about their relationship with Pennsylvania,” said Corbett said, noting a meeting he scheduled with the company’s chief executive officer for the afternoon. He dodged a question about whether the state was working with the company on any upcoming projects. “Their facility out at Marcus Hook is working along very well.”

Corbett is on a 10-day trade mission to Brazil and Chile, paid for by nonprofit business development organization Team Pennsylvania Foundation.

Braskem is obviously eyeing Pennsylvania for its bounty of shale gas, but it’s uncertain how deep their relationship will get, said John Schirra, a Butler County-based account manager in the chemical business.

“We have the lowest-cost feedstock in the world, and it’s scaring the entire world,” said Schirra, a former president of the Joint Chemical Group, which runs Pittsburgh Chemical Day.

“A company like Braskem, they’re concerned, so they’re looking at how they can tap into those resources. That’s why you’re seeing them here in the region. The question is: Are they going to extract the resource to take it to other facilities or are they going to invest here?”

Braskem, which turns propane into plastics at Marcus Hook and employs about 130 plastics researchers in Oakland, is looking for more plastics manufacturing opportunities, said spokesman Charles T. Glazer. It remains to be seen where and how the company will invest, he said.

“Our Marcus Hook plant is running very well, running very efficiently and almost at maximum capacity,” he said. “It’s using all the feedstock it could possibly use. We don’t speculate, but we are always looking for opportunities to grow our business.”

Corbett has leaned on Braskem, visiting its Philadelphia offices last month, for help figuring out whom to talk to in Brazil, Glazer said. His trip there started Monday, and he has met with government officials to discuss a trade deal and been part of a roundtable hosted by Volvo, among other events.

A Volvo parts supplier, an arm of the company Wipro Limited, plans to build a new manufacturing plant near Chambersburg, Corbett announced during the trip on Tuesday. The company Wipro Infrastructure Engineering will hire 74 new workers to help make hydraulic cylinders.

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