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12News Investigates: Chevron Phillips eyes Orange County for $5 billion expansion

The $5 billion dollar plant could bring thousands of construction jobs and at least 100 permanent jobs, but the competition is stiff for areas contending for the project.

ORANGE COUNTY, Texas — A $5 billion dollar Chevron Phillips ethylene plant might be coming to Orange County, but the deal isn’t done yet.

12News Investigates is digging into the records to find out just who the competition is, and what they bring to the table.

Three locations are in the running for Chevron Phillips’ ethylene plant. The $5 billion dollar plant could bring thousands of construction jobs and at least 100 permanent jobs. But the competition is stiff.  

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If you take a ride down Chemical Row in Orange, on one side, you see some of the biggest names in industry. Firestone Polymers, Print Pack, Honeywell, and Dow have facilities that call Chemical Row in Orange home.  

On the other side of the road, you see wide-open green spaces.

“We have plenty of room and plenty of land to develop on and it is good, fair prices,” said Theresa Beauchamp, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 2. 

Across the street from Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, a sign can be seen that someone could be moving in.

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“Everyone is in support of a project this size and I don’t know who wouldn’t be,” said Johnny Trahan, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 1.

12News Investigates filed an open records request with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 12News Investigates received the air quality permit Chevron Phillips has already filed for the land across the street from its current facility in Orange. It’s a sign of progress even though the permit is still pending

“We also know that we aren’t there yet,” John Gothia, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 3. “We will feel a lot better once we, once the deal is done.”

How close is Orange County to landing this deal? County Commissioner John Gothia said, it is down to three; Orange Texas, another unspecified location in Texas and a location in Louisiana are all being considered. 

“When you look at Louisiana, when you look west towards Houston, the Baytown area, you've seen a lot of growth, a lot of stuff happening there and not a lot happening in Orange County,” Gothia said.

The most powerful tool for luring companies to Texas is called a Chapter 313 agreement, or a tax abatement, which temporarily lowers the otherwise high property tax burden businesses would have to pay. Other states have this option too.

“Being next to the state of Louisiana, where they can offer more, that gives us a little bit of a disadvantage when we compete for these projects because they know what they can get in Louisiana,” Trahan said.

That puts a lot of pressure on Orange County.

“You are going to have to make a maximum offer to get the project because everyone else is doing that,” Trahan said.

Last month, talk of the proposed tax breaks led to the resignation of Orange County Judge Dean Crooks. He advocated for a taking a critical look at the tax abatement, but some saw his stance as too negative.

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“It’s very important for everybody to stay in their lane,” said Robert Viator, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 4.

So on top of the tax break, Texas can also offer money through the Governor’s Enterprise Fund. It awards deal-closing grants to companies considering a new project. The County Commissioners said Chevron Phillips has applied. 

For example in 2013, Chevron USA was awarded $300 million on its $662 million investment in Houston. It sounds like a lot but that’s just two percent of the company’s investment.

“Once you hear if things are moving on the Governor’s Enterprise Fund, I think things will start moving forward after that point,” Trahan said.

12News contacted the Governor’s Office and a spokesperson said they were not able to say when a decision will be made on the Governor’s Enterprise Fund. 

Another competitive advantage, Texas is one of seven states that forgoes individual income tax.  A spokesperson with the Governor’s office told me that is a huge incentive for companies to move to Texas.

In Orange County, commissioners said there’s another huge advantage, right downtown.  

“Lamar State College of Orange is definitely a gem for us," Trahan said. "And they are going to be working with this industry and others also looking into the area, in different training programs that they could put our young people."

Right now, 200 students are enrolled in the Process and Industrial Technology Program. Lamar State College-Orange hired an eleventh instructor to meet the demand.

“That's what makes us really special because we get you ready for a J-O-B,” said Dr. Thomas Johnson, President of Lamar State College-Orange.

With a workforce ready to go, support coming from the County Commissioners and several state incentives, commissioners said Orange County is a strong contender.

“We feel like we are in the top part of that running in the top three, but we also know that we aren’t there yet,” said Gothia.

“Be positive, be encouraging, continue forward, our future is bright,” said Viator.

The County Commissioners said it could be another six to 12 months before we see another discussion regarding the proposed plant.

The topic of the proposed tax abatement might be coming up at a Commissioners meeting.

Right now the 313 proposal is being reviewed by the West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District and the Bridge City Independent School Districts comptrollers. 

The Superintendent from the West Orange-Cover Consolidated Independent School District, Rickie Harris said, “the 313 agreement has not been finalized at this time. It is being reviewed by the comptroller for approval to move to the next step.”

The Bridge City Independent School District superintendent Todd Lintzen said, “the application has been submitted to the Comptroller for evaluation to ensure compliance with state requirements. Once the 313 Application is approved by the Texas State Comptroller it will be returned to BCISD for final negotiations that will lead to possible board action. I have no firm timeline regarding the return of the application to the District as it currently is in the office of the Comptroller.”