Robert Mintak, CEO of Standard Lithium Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia, had one qualm about putting his company’s flagship operation in El Dorado a few years ago.
“He said, as a joke, that one of his requirements was that we had to have a microbrewery in town,” said Bill Luther, president and CEO of the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce. “So we started recruiting one, and now it’s in operation, the Three Birds Brewing Co.”
The craft brewery, which opened in May on North West Avenue, was just one of a string of developments Luther ticked off in assessing Union County’s recent economic rebound.
MuleKick Restaurant of Magnolia has taken over the Murphy Arts District’s Griffin restaurant, a victim of the COVID-19 crisis. MuleKick owner Christy Ouei, styling the El Dorado location MuleKick@MAD, was holding a job fair last week, “looking to hire a cadre of about 100 workers,” Luther said. The positions ranged from waiters and chefs to dishwashers and employees for the restaurant’s catering business.”
Another company conspicuously hiring is Continental Carbonic Products Inc., which is recruiting for about 60 positions averaging $29 an hour at a dry ice factory being built at the LSB Industries/El Dorado Chemical Co. site at 4500 N. West Ave.
“Those jobs include, you know, the plant manager down to the lowest paid worker,” Luther said. “They offer great benefits, a 401(k), life insurance, dental, vision and, of course, health. So, this is going to be a great boon to the Union County area. They will be taking carbon dioxide that goes up the stacks at the LSB plant and converting it into dry ice; that cleans up the environment and makes a product that is in high demand presently.”
The dry ice plant is under construction now, and is looking to start operations before the end of the year, he said.
But Luther holds particular hopes for the nascent lithium industry in El Dorado, once Standard Lithium’s two test plants are coordinated at a Lanxess plant in town. “Once all that is integrated, Standard will extract a lithium chloride solution from south Arkansas brine in one plant and convert that solution into a battery-quality lithium carbonate. And they hope to have that installed and operational sometime next month.”
Luther and Clint O’Neal, director of global business for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, toured the lithium operation a few weeks ago, when eight or 10 technicians and engineers were working. “They are looking to expand that by another eight or so. Lithium is really shaping up as a promising opportunity.”