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Business Outlook 2006

Companies adapt to dwindling hard rock

As they shift their focus to soft rock and cement, mining officials predict a year of healthy growth.

Published February 19, 2006

With less than 20 years of hard rock reserves left in Hernando County, mining - long a foundation of the county's industry - faces changing times.

But the area's mines are quickly adapting, with mining officials forecasting another year of healthy growth.

In the past year, two of the area's three remaining mines continued to adapt to the dwindling hard rock, planning new investments in quarrying soft rock to manufacture cement, concrete and feed additives.

"It's just a change of focus," said Eddie Allsopp, president of the cement division for Rinker Materials, the Australian company that owns Florida Crushed Stone. Allsopp predicted that Rinker's reserves for cement production would last another 40 years.

The company plans to begin construction on its new $170-million kiln in mid 2006. The construction project, slated for completion in early 2008, will employ 200 to 300 people, Allsopp said.

Once opened, it will add 30 to 50 new employees to the 76 workers in Rinker's cement division.

The plant will more than double Rinker's capacity to produce cement, an ingredient of concrete, from 800,000 tons annually to 2-million tons, Allsopp sad.

Rinker's hard rock reserves are expected to last less than 20 years, said Cliff Kirkmyer, president of the Quarries East division for Rinker. Hard rock is often used in asphalt and other road construction products.

"It is a diminishing resource, but there's still a number of years of reserves remaining," Kirkmyer said.

With demand high, the hard rock division added four new management jobs in 2005, and maintains a work force of about 115 people.

Business is going so well that the company has had a tough time finding workers to fill all of its positions, especially the skilled positions, Kirkmyer said.

The continued high demand and the company's investment in soft rock and cement mean that Rinker will continue to play a significant role in the local economy for years to come, Kirkmyer said.

"Certainly, there may be a slowdown in one segment, but offset by improvement in another segment," he said.

Like Rinker, Florida Rock Industries has also shifted its focus to soft rock.

"As far as Florida Rock, they are just about totally out of the mining industry altogether," said Ron Aliff, Hernando County's mining inspector.

Florida Rock currently mines soft rock used in agricultural feed, Aliff said. In addition, the company won approval from the County Commission in January to build a new concrete batch plant near U.S. 98 and Hawksbury Road.

Construction on the batch plant is expected to begin in May and take four months.

Once operational, the plant will create 12 new jobs and produce 60,000 yards of ready-mix concrete annually, said Matt McNulty, director of corporate development for Florida Rock.

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]

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