Sugar rush: Chamber tours Domino Sugar Refinery

Feb 22nd, 2013 | By | Category: Top Story

Domino employee Steve NcSherry stands next to a mountain of raw cane sugar.

Tucked away in a quiet pocket of Peters St., workers behind the charred brown bricks of the Chalmette Domino Sugar Refinery have been busy breaking some sweet records: last year the facility processed over 2
billion pounds of sugar making them the number 2 producing refinery in the world.

The facility was opened up to St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce members and guests for a February 20 luncheon and tour.

“I’ve lived here all of my life and I’ve never been here,” said 2013 Chamber Chairman Jerry Calcagno on the guided tour, as he gazed up at the towering brick walls. “I feel like I’m in a different city.”

Plant Manager Pete Maraia said that the number one producing refinery in the world is in Dubai, and one of the reasons they can maintain that top spot is because they produce one thing. The Domino Refinery
in Chalmette is a vastly different. In addition to granulated sugar, they produce baking sugar, raw natural sugar, and package every product on-site.

“Here we’re producing a multitude of different products in a multitude of different packages,” said Maraia. “There [Dubai refinery] they produce one thing: it’s sweet and it’s white.”

The refinery is owned by American Sugar Refining, the largest sugar cane refining company in the world. The American Sugar Refining’s various products are sold through several well known brands, including
Domino, which is popular west of the Mississippi; and Florida Crystals, which is popular East of the Mississippi.

The facility currently employs 368—up by 42 workers since Hurricane Katrina, and spends around $21 million on payroll, making it one of the largest employers in the parish. An institution in St. Bernard, the Domino Sugar Refinery’s impact is felt all over Louisiana.

“Most sugar comes from Southeast Louisiana, and these farmers rely on this refinery to handle their product,” said Maraia.

In a February 19 statement, Senator Mary Landrieu praised the Chalmette Refinery’s contribution to keeping the sugar market stable, by being one of the first companies to return to normal operations during
those tough times.

“When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans and the region, she crippled the nation’s largest sugar refinery, the Domino Sugar refinery in Chalmette…Despite it all, grocery store shelves were not empty and sugar did not become an unaffordable luxury,” said Landrieu. “Thanks to the market stability provided
by our strong sugar policy and the never-say-die spirit of Louisianans, the Domino refinery was one of the first Louisiana-based businesses to reopen, allowing growers throughout the state to keep multi-generational farms in operation.”

In a time where many larger companies choose to outsource factory work for cheaper labor, the 104-year-old Domino Sugar Refinery says the facility isn’t going anywhere.

“We’re going to be here a long, long time,” said Maraia. “How long? I say,  forever.”

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