Dow Chemical plans new research compound near Houston (video)

HOUSTON — Dow Chemical Co. is building a new campus south of Houston where 2,000 employees will focus on product innovation, the latest Texas investment by a chemical company benefiting from the shale rush.

The campus, which the company calls the Texas Innovation Center, will be in Lake Jackson, near Dow’s petrochemical complex in Freeport, and will consolidate work now done in several of Dow’s existing facilities in the area.

Dow did not disclose a cost for the campus, the size of the site or the square footage of the laboratory and office space. The campus will include at least five buildings, including three four-story properties and a stand-alone amenities center with a cafeteria and fitness center, according to renderings of the project.

Some employees will begin working out of the campus starting next year and the facility is scheduled for completion by the end of 2016, said Trish Thompson, a Dow spokeswoman.

Dow’s research and development teams in Texas now work at sites throughout the Freeport complex and elsewhere, some of which were built in 1940, Thompson said.

The new campus will include two research and development buildings with updated laboratories, bright hallways and doorways colored pastel yellow and green, according to a video on the project.

“I think people are excited about moving to such state-of-the-art facilities,” Thompson said.

Dow has invested heavily in new facilities along the U.S. Gulf Coast following the shale boom, which produced abundant supplies of low-cost natural gas that petrochemical companies use for fuel and raw material.

Dow has committed $4 billion to new facilities along the Gulf Coast, including a $1.7 billion ethylene cracker planned for Freeport. The research campus is in addition to the company’s planned spending on manufacturing plants.

“In the next five years our site will see remarkable growth in manufacturing and the Texas Innovation Center will bolster our R&D operations on a long-term path forward as well,” said Earl Shipp, vice president of Dow’s U.S. Gulf Coast operations, in a statement.

Workers at the campus will focus on developing new chemical products that can be used to make better packaging for foods, or more effective personal care products like shampoos, among other innovations, Thompson said.

“There are advances in that every day,” she said. “Take food packaging for example. Our customers are always seeking solutions to making food packaging lighter, less bulky, able to store food longer. That’s a huge need. A large percentage of food that exists in the world spoils before it ever reaches the market.”

Chevron Phillips Chemical, a joint venture of Chevron Corp. and Phillips 66, plans to spend $6 billion on new and expanded petrochemical plants, including expansions in Baytown. Exxon Mobil also is planning a multibillion-dollar expansion of its chemical complex in Baytown.

Other companies also have announced plans for new chemical plants, including several focused on producing methanol.

In all, 148 chemical projects amounting to more than $100 billion worth of planned investments have been announced as a result of low-cost natural gas, according to an American Chemistry Council tally released Feb. 20.

“This is a historic milestone for America’s chemical industry and proof that shale gas is a powerful driver of manufacturing growth,” said Cal Dooley, the council’s president, in a statement on the tally. “Thanks to the shale gas production boom, the United States is the most attractive place in the world to invest in chemical and plastics manufacturing. It’s an astonishing gain in competitiveness.”