Southwind Milling has laid off a majority of its Pine Bluff employees, and company officials have offered little explanation as to why. Southwind Milling CEO Robin Venn said the company employed about 45 people in Pine Bluff until Monday, when it terminated about 35 workers. They were not given advance notice, he said.


The remaining 10 employees are part of the transition team, he said. The company opened its state-of-the-art rice mill in October 2015, bringing more than 40 jobs at the time. The company sells its rice in the domestic and overseas markets.


“Our ownership group and our senior lenders are working to re-structure the company to eventually start the business back up again,” Venn said.


Southwind Milling Chief Marketing Officer Matt Gibson and Venn were hired in January 2017 to take Southwind Milling toward full-scale production. They said they cannot speculate on what factors would need to happen to put the company in a position to rehire.


“The 10 employees are all in the key disciplines in the business,” Venn said.


Gaston Marquevich is the owner of Southwind Milling.Lou Ann Nisbett, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, spent years working with state officials who had been working with a company from Argentina who were interested in building a rice mill and showed them the former Century Tube facility at the Port of Pine Bluff, which had water access. Informed of the terminations, Nisbett remained optimistic.


“We have great hopes that they will be restructured and brought back online,” Nisbett said. “They have a beautiful facility.”


A former Southwind Milling employee who was part of the terminations contacted the Commercial this week to disclose Southwind’s terminations. The person did not wish to be interviewed. The opening of Southwind Milling was voted the No. 9 story of 2015 by the staff of the Commercial. When the project was announced, the projected economic investment was $15 million but that was later increased to $34 million.


The Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Arkansas Development Finance Authority guaranteed a $10 million issue for the project, and Southwind also qualified for an income tax credit equal to four percent of the total payroll, a sales tax refund on construction costs and training assistance from AEDC.