By Meg Kinnard
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) DuPont Co. will build a $500 million plant in South Carolina that will help the company expand its production of Kevlar, the tough fiber used in bulletproof vests and other protective gear, company officials said Dec. 18.
The company said construction on a new Kevlar production facility at its existing Cooper River plant near Charleston will likely begin in January. It is expected to open in 2010.
The $500 million is DuPont’s single-largest investment in Kevlar since the fiber was invented more than 40 years ago, and is part of an expansion of the product announced by the company in September. The new South Carolina facility, and a $50 million upgrade at DuPont’s plant in Richmond, Va., ultimately will lead to a global increase in Kevlar production of more than 25 percent, DuPont vice president Thomas Powell said.
DuPont also makes Kevlar at facilities in Northern Ireland and Japan, Powell said.
Five times stronger than steel on a weight basis, Kevlar originally was developed for use in tires, but it has since become synonymous with ballistic and stab-resistant body armor. Kevlar also is used in firefighters’ clothing and as shielding to protect military vehicles.
While Kevlar orders have increased in part because of U.S. troops fighting abroad, the company is expanding production because the substance is used in many different capacities, Powell said
DuPont has said less than half of the company’s Kevlar production goes into personal protection. That material also can be used to build lighter airplanes and cars.
“We don’t build capacity based on what we have today,” Powell said. “We base it on what we’re going to need in the future.”
DuPont currently employs 60 people at the Cooper River plant, where elastomer — a polymer primarily used in the automotive industry — is produced. The new facility is expected to require 100 new permanent jobs and more than 400 long-term contractors, Powell said.
Powell said one factor in the location of the new plant is that two of the largest Kevlar customers — armored vehicle manufacturer Force Protection and Vought Aircraft Industries, which makes a portion of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner — also are located in southeast South Carolina.
“We think that helps South Carolina, because you see these industries, all related to that safety and security,” he said.
In a news release, Gov. Mark Sanford called the announcement “another sign that our efforts to strengthen the state’s economic soil conditions are working to attract new opportunities for job creation and significant investment.”