Imperial Sugar looking into the future

By Brooke Kelley - bio | email

PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - Since the deadly explosion at Imperial Sugar in February, 2008, the sugar refinery has been rebuilding and moving forward, but never forgetting what happened.

Since the explosion, the company says they have made significant strides in revamping the plant to make it bigger, better and safer.

Twenty-two months ago, Imperial Sugar CEO John Sheptor said they would rebuild and he kept his promise to the employees and the community.

Imperial Sugar is producing and packaging up sugar once again.

With a brand new plant and state-of-the art equipment, four and five pound bags of sugar are being packaged and will soon be shipped out to the stores.

Packaging supervisor Larry Williams has worked in the plant for 37 years.

"My grandfather worked here, I grew up within these gates just a product of the refinery so to speak. If you had relatives here you worked here and I followed in that path," said Williams.

Williams is in charge of making sure all this sugar is packaged correctly. We asked him what he thought of the new plant.

"It's great, a complete turn around from what we had. It came at a price, those guys who have gone on, we are going to make this the best facility we can make it that is the least we can do," said Williams.

The road to rebuilding the Port Wentworth facility has been a long one.

"In meeting with the employees, we talked about our vision hope for the rebuilding this plant. We shared a common concern of would it be possible. Would we have the funding? What about our investors," said Sheptor.

"When we got the announcement they were going to rebuild, we latched onto that. We said we are going to make this company what it was before," said Williams.

And through every milestone, from the groundbreakings to the new silos to the completion of the packaging plant, Williams was there.

"We cleaned up recycled sugar and we did everything, we did what we had to do to get this company up and going," said Williams.

Sheptor says this has been an incredible journey.

"In 22 months, we have completed it and it is really an accomplishment for the families associated with the refinery," said Sheptor. "There's a great family emotional significance to the restart of this facility for all these wonderful people. We've bonded together with terrible loss and challenged our lives, our community and we've become very close."

In the next couple of weeks, the company will start producing both brown and powdered sugar.

Sheptor says they have already shared what they've learned about refining sugar with other companies around the world.

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