Southwind Milling’s Pine Bluff rice facility has been ordered to cease and desist operations by the Arkansas Agriculture Department just three weeks after laying off a majority of its employees. According to the Agriculture Department’s order, Southwind was in violation of the Arkansas Public Grain Warehouse Law “for failure to meet increased bonding requirements due to financial deficits.”
The letter is addressed to Southwind CEO Robin Venn. Adriane Barnes, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department, said that the financial problems prevented Southwind from renewing its state license to store grain.
Attempts to reach Venn on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
“Southwind Milling Company, LLC is hereby notified not to take any more grain in or move any grain out until all requirements of the law are met,” the letter states. “You shall notify this office immediately of your intentions. Once you have met all the requirements of the Arkansas Public Grain Warehouse Law, you will be released from this notice.”
In June, Southwind laid off 35 of its 46 workers, who were not given advance notice. Southwind, owned by Florida-based Optimum Capital, is more than $8 million behind in payments on bonds backed by the state, which helped the company get started in 2014 and open in 2015. 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.
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 closure, Nisbett remained optimistic.
“Out hopes are that they can be back open soon,” she said.
This is the second time the state Agriculture Department has closed Southwind. Last September, the department ordered it shut after a grain shortage and a nonpayment complaint, both of which were violations of the Public Grain Warehouse Act.