Fluor-BWXT Grant Helps New Business in Jackson County Add Jobs

Oak staves may age up to four years before reaching the ideal moisture content for barrel making at Speyside Bourbon Cooperage in Jackson County. The refurbished cabinet plant also has kilns that can be used to expedite the drying process.

Fluor-BWXT Nuclear Operations Director and Community Commitment Fund Chair Tim Poe (second from left) presents a check to Speyside Bourbon Cooperage General Manager Darren Whitmer (third from left). On hand to help present the check are (from left) Chris Manegold, CEO of Economic Development Alliance of Southern Ohio CEO; Sam Brady, Economic Development specialist, Jackson County Economic Development Partnership (JCEDP); Jennifer Jacobs, executive director, JCEDP; Allen Upshaw, Fluor-BWXT manager and Community Commitment Fund board member; Gary Arnett, director of Pike County Economic Development and Adam Phillips, asset manager of the Southern Ohio Port Authority

Last fall, Fluor-BWXT provided a new Jackson County manufacturer, Speyside Bourbon Cooperage, a $48,000 business opportunity grant through their Community Commitment Fund.

The check came with a promise that Speyside would create 35 new jobs at the former cabinet-making facility on East Main Street. In the spring of 2016 the bourbon barrel maker met that goal and then promptly surpassed it by adding 15 more jobs.

In mid-July, just eight weeks into operations, Speyside plant management and employees reached a production goal by crafting 500 high-quality, oak barrels in one shift. With a 200,000-barrel-a-year capacity, the new plant is poised to meet the growing demand of distillers and looks ahead at possible plant expansion in the future.

“Fluor-BWXT is proud to have been a part of making this business opportunity possible,” said Tim Poe, Nuclear Operations Director and Community Commitment Fund Steering Committee Chair.

“We work closely with economic development directors from Pike, Ross, Scioto and Jackson counties through the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDISO) to find just these kinds of opportunities. Having Speyside come to Jackson County is a direct result of this kind of business relationship. This repurposed facility has created 50 jobs and has the space to create several more through a possible expansion. That’s a win for Jackson County and the regional economy.”

Cooperage or barrel making goes back more than 2,000 years as this vessel was a common way to move a variety of bulk goods. Their relatively light weight, water tightness and maneuverability made them a staple of commercial transport prior to the emergence of 55-gallon steel drums.

Wine and spirit makers have long known the great influence oak barrels can have on the taste of their product. Today the demand for quality oak barrels is stronger than ever. Thus the Scottish-based barrel maker added a Jackson County plant to go along with their facility in Shepherdsville, KY.

“We originally planned to build on another site in Kentucky,” said Speyside General Manager Darren Whitmer. “Most of our bourbon customers are in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana. But when we took a closer look we found Jackson to be well positioned in terms of quality oak timber, facilities, transportation and most importantly a skilled workforce.”

While Speyside has incorporated advanced technology into barrel making, some elements won’t change. Of the more than 50 species of oak growing throughout the world only a few are suitable for coopering. It can take 50 years before the oak required is ready for harvesting, at which time it is specially selected for their casks, which can last up to 50 years. It can take anywhere from six months to four years before harvested wood which has been cut into staves are at the ideal 12 – 14 percent moisture content for barrel making, depending on if the wood is kiln- or air-dried.

Only barrels made from white oak with no preservatives and charred on the inside can be used to produce Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The flavor and color of the bourbon is directly influenced by the wooden barrel and the amount of time it is aged. Aging varies anywhere from four to six years. In fact the wood breathes the liquid in and out of its pores with the change of season.

After one cycle of bourbon aging these barrels can no longer be used for that purpose. Instead they are reused multiple times to store and age Scotch whisky, Canadian whisky, tequila or a variety of other distilled products. A typical barrel has a purchase price around $250.

“It was an exciting day for Fluor-BWXT representatives and members of the JEDISO,” said Jennifer Jacobs, JEDISO member and executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Partnership. “To see how the ancient craft of coopering is now being done in Jackson, Ohio using advanced technology and the latest in ergonomic design, unlike anywhere in the world is really inspiring. Speyside locating in Jackson County has had a positive economic boost to the four-county region with their investment of $17 million plus, exceeding their initial job creation commitment of 35 to now 50 employees and the purchasing of the white oak used in the production of the casks being harvested and supplied within the region.”

Through a partnership with the local communities, Fluor-BWXT supports grant requests from Pike, Ross, Scioto and Jackson counties looking to grow their businesses and add quality jobs to this region. Each year Fluor-BWXT invests about $500,000 locally through grants and related business support.