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A Black woman is running Domino Sugar’s refinery for first time in plant’s history

Coricka White is the first Black woman refinery manager to run Domino Sugar’s 99-year-old Baltimore facility.
Coricka White is the first Black woman refinery manager to run Domino Sugar’s 99-year-old Baltimore facility. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

Coricka White’s promotion to refinery manager at Domino Sugar’s Baltimore facility came at a hectic time in the nearly century-old plant’s history.

As the waterfront refinery replaced its giant, neon rooftop sign — its highest-profile asset and a staple on the Inner Harbor skyline — a roaring, three-alarm fire burned down the cavernous raw sugar shed on the property in April, forcing the company to halt the plant’s operations for more than a week.

“That’s manufacturing, you know what I mean?” White said in an interview. “You encounter some challenges, and you overcome those challenges and move on to the next day.”

But May 17, 2021, was a different day for Domino.

For the first time in its 99 years in Locust Point, the sugar refinery was being run by a woman — a Black woman. The significance of that achievement isn’t lost on White.

“I’m looking at myself as being a trailblazer and hope that I can pave the way for folks like myself to follow,” she said. “I definitely stand on the shoulders of some very strong folks here, and I’d like to think of my success as the success of the Domino family. It speaks to how progressive our organization is.”

White, who holds a degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia and a master’s of business administration from the Florida Institute of Technology, has been in the business nearly 20 years.

Hired as a process engineer in 2003, she has been promoted to progressively senior roles, including assistant manager of ASR Group’s Chalmette Refinery in Louisiana and assistant manager of the Baltimore facility. (American Sugar Refining Inc., a member of ASR Group, owns the refinery.)

White’s proven operational leadership, extensive knowledge and experience make her a perfect fit for the role, said Kelly DeAngelo, ASR Group’s vice president of North America operations, who previously ran the Baltimore refinery.

“She is a trusted, results-oriented leader who brings out the best in her colleagues,” he said. “The Baltimore refinery has a bright future and is in excellent hands with Coricka.”

Baltimore Domino’s plant is working overtime as raw sugar pours in from Mexico

The rebuilding of the storage shed following the April blaze will be led by former Baltimore refinery manager Tim Noud, who has been named senior director of plant operations and modernization.

As refinery manager, White will oversee a $20 million installation of new refined sugar silos, which will provide 14 million more pounds of storage capacity. The plant, which produces more than 40 products and employs more than 500 people, can refine more than 885,000 tons of raw sugar a year.

“That is huge for a refinery of our size that is doing more than 6 million pounds a day,” she said. “That gives us the capability to run our operations a little bit differently than what we’ve done in the past. . . . We’re not only investing, but we are embracing technology so that we can continue to move the refinery forward.”

Communicating and engaging with the refinery employees on a daily basis is critical, especially during times of crisis, White said. The refinery is encouraging workers to get coronavirus vaccines, and it hosted a free vaccination clinic for workers on-site last month.

“That’s definitely one of the key things that I feel is the responsibility of my job here, engaging and communicating with the folks that work in the refinery,” she said. “When you do that well, when you keep folks abreast of, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on,’ ‘This is what we need to keep focused on,’ it makes the job a bit easier.”

When friends and family hear about her new job, White said, most ask the same two questions.

Are you the first woman to do it? The first Black woman?

“I’m proud to say yes and happy to be the first,” White said, “and definitely don’t want to be the last.”

— Baltimore Sun

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