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Port proximity a boon for Domino Sugar

Domino Sugar is the last manufacturer still standing alongside Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

The former industrial hub is now flanked by high-end homes and shops and Under Armour’s Tide Point headquarters. However, even as the 22-building Baltimore complex stands out among its neighbors, Stu FitzGibbon, who has been the refinery manager for the past eight years, said people commonly believe the plant has closed.

Domino Sugar

Domino Sugar refinery manager Stu FitzGibbon surveys a raw sugar storage facility in Baltimore on Jan. 15, 2014. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

FitzGibbon said the refinery, which opened in Baltimore in 1922, is actually thriving, making investments in its appearance and infrastructure and giving a boost to the local economy by providing 1,220 jobs – including 610 direct jobs. Of those, 442 are at the refinery and another 168 are associated with tugboats, trucking and other outside entities that keep the plant running. The plant produces more than $150 million annually in economic activity for Baltimore. The Baltimore plant provides 14 percent of the sugar consumed in the United States each year, producing an average of 6.5 million pounds of sugar daily in packages from small individual packets to large, industrial bags. The plant also boasts its own on-site power plant.

A large part of Domino Sugar’s success, he said, is its location along the Port of Baltimore.

“All sugar refineries need deep water access,” he said.

Without the port, FitzGibbon said, the cost of shipping the company’s sugar and receiving deliveries of raw materials would go up due to the increased costs associated with truck shipping.

“It would cost a fortune,” he said.

Instead, 100 percent of Domino Sugar’s raw sugar – its chief raw ingredient – is delivered via cargo ships, according to FitzGibbon, who is in his 34th year in the sugar business. The refinery sees about 40 cargo ships a year. A typical cargo includes 50 million pounds of raw sugar and can remain in the port for seven days while Domino employees empty them. Outgoing sugar products also are then delivered via about 33,000 truck trips annually and 1,100 rail cars.

A recent delivery to Domino came via a 600-foot-long ship from Mexico that included $2.7 million in raw materials – about 70 million pounds. In 2012, Domino and the Port of Baltimore received the largest single raw sugar shipment delivered to any port east of the Mississippi River – more than 95 million pounds.

“The port is a commodity that extends far beyond the shore line and extends into other states,” FitzGibbon said. The Port is a multiplier of economic activity. There are businesses across the mid-Atlantic region whose vitality is tied inextricably with access to the deep water piers and the skilled workforce which makes the port effective.

The Domino Sugar refinery is an robust example. The facility provides sugar products to major regional companies; including The Dryers Ice Cream Plant in Laurel and Hershey Foods in Pennsylvania. Kraft in Delaware, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Pepsi and Kellogg’s are some other companies that receive sugar from Baltimore’s iconic sugar refinery.

As Domino nears 100 years of operation, FitzGibbon said the firm is investing in its operation – spending $21 million on a major capital improvement campaign and millions on beautification and sustainability programs.

“We’ve started to spend more on our appearance,” he said. “Supporting the communities around us has always been a core value. We’ve been told that, while the ‘Domino Sugars’ sign is beautiful, the buildings themselves need some sprucing up.”

He said the best marketing the company does is the maintenance of its sign – a lit fixture in the Baltimore skyline. The 120-by-70-foot sign casts a blood orange hue through its 650 neon tubes.

FitzGibbon said upkeep and lighting of the sign costs about $20,000 annually – “money well spent.”