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Conifex to modernize, restart former Georgia-Pacific sawmill

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

By Randal Curtman

Managing Editor

EL DORADO — About 150 people gathered at the Conifex Timber Inc. site south of El Dorado on Monday to celebrate the renovation and reopening of the former Georgia-Pacific sawmill.

“This is an important event for not only South Arkansas, but for the entire state,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Conifex Timber Inc., a Canada-based forestry and sawmilling company, will create about 120 new, full-time jobs once the facility is reopened. The company is investing $80 million in the Union County sawmill.

“This project provides Conifex with access to lumber and timber markets in the U.S. South,” said Ken Shields, CEO of Conifex. “Our commitment of $80 million to this facility will ensure the long term sustainability of this site and contribute to our overall company growth.

“We are pleased by the warm welcome and professionalism of the government and private sector partners we have worked with here in El Dorado and throughout the state,” Shields said.

Gov. Hutchinson echoed Shields’ sentiment when he congratulated El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash, Union County Judge Mike Loftin and Mike Dumas, president and CEO of the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce on their efforts to bring industry to South Arkansas.

“What you do is important, not just to El Dorado and Union County, but all you do here is important for the entire state of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.

“Southern Arkansas hosts one of the greatest timber supply baskets in the United States,” Shields said. Having a facility located here also puts the plant within easy shipping of 60 percent of all new home construction, which is expected to occur in the 13 states of the South, Shields said.

Conifex mainly produces structural grade Spruce Pine Fir dimension lumber, according to a news release from the company. Saw timber purchases are expected to amount to 700,000 tons per year, or $30 million, from suppliers within an approximate 60-mile radius.

The company plans for the El Dorado facility to produce 180 million board feet initially.

Besides the direct economic benefit of the sawmill employees, there will be hundreds of trucks carrying lumber and supplies to and from the facility each day.

“The indirect economic development benefits are also considerable, too,” Shields said.

County Judge Loftin said he had driven by the idle plant twice a day for a decade, and he was excited when he drove by recently and saw the lights were on at the sawmill.

“I’m glad to see the property back in use. The jobs that will be created for citizens of Union County will be a great boost to our local economy and many will see great benefits.”

Gov. Hutchinson pointed out that Arkansas is a player in the global economy, and the decision of a Canadian company to locate here further reinforces the importance of international trade to Arkansans.

“I want people to know how important the global economy is to the state of Arkansas,” the governor said. “Our agriculture, our timber, our rice — all are shipped all around the world,” Hutchinson said. “I hope this administration understands how important the global economy is to our state.”

Headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, Conifex Timber Inc. was established in 2008 when it acquired its first idled sawmill in British Columbia. A second mill followed two years later as well as a biomass power plant that has been in operation since 2015.

The company has invested about $80 million in two Canadian sawmill complexes and related businesses as well as $100 million in its green power gernation business, creating over 500 jobs.

This will be Conifex’s first facility in Arkansas and the Southern U.S.

“The positive impacts of the plant are many fold,” said Mayor Hash. “From timber owners, timber harvesters, timber processors, plant maintainers/suppliers and product transporters, the economic gains to all will be significant. The city of El Dorado welcomes Conifex.”

No date for the opening of the sawmill was set, but those interested in applying for a job at Conifex may contact Alexandra Bell at Advantage Staffing in El Dorado at 870-862-3000 or email alexandra.bell@advantageresourcing.com.

Randal Curtman is the managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. He may be reached at 870-862-6611 or by email at rcurtman@eldoradonews.com.