An incentive package that will assure the continuance of 190 primary jobs at a manufacturing plant in Pine Bluff was approved late Tuesday.
The Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County, the group that administers the three-eighths cent tax that was approved by county voters in 2011, said yes to a $572,500 incentive package for Twin Rivers Paper Co., which completed the acquisition of the former Mondi Group Mill at 1701 Jefferson Parkway in June.
The package includes keeping 190 employees with an average hourly wage of $25 per hour plus benefits for which Twin Rivers will receive a credit of $2,500 per job or $475,000, and an additional $97,500 for capital investments.
On hand for the meeting Tuesday was Ken Winterhalter, the president of Twin Rivers Paper Co., which is jointly owned by Atlas Holdings LLC and Blue Wolf Capital.
“We buy paper mills that are typically distressed,” he said, adding that the goal is to “turbo charge” the plant and its employees and get the mill producing at a high level by investing in equipment and people.
“We’re excited about the opportunity here,” Winterhalter said. “We can make it work.”
The plant was originally completed in 1958, and Winterhalter said it will continue to manufacture the same products it does now.
“The demand is there,” he said. “The supply is not.” He said that the goal is to bring the “mill up to the 21st century.”
“There are also a bunch of environmental issues and we have to deal with that,” he said.
Asked about the products the mill currently produces, Winterhalter told the group that if they were to walk into a McDonald’s or Starbucks, an estimated 25 of the 30 or so paper products they would encounter would come from Twin Rivers, including sandwich wrappers, french fry bags, clam-shell containers that fast food restaurants place sandwiches in, and others.
Twin Rivers also produces about 70 percent of the paper that is used by pharmaceutical companies when they include explanations and potential effects of medications.
Lou Ann Nisbett, the president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said that the incentive package was similar to an incentive package the tax board approved several years ago for L & R Distributing, which acquired the SAJ facilities after Walgreen’s purchased SAJ Drugs from the LaFrance family.
She said Walgreen’s didn’t want SAJ, but another company based in New York did, and the incentive package allowed them to retain the jobs that would have otherwise been lost.
“The (Twin Rivers) Mill has had an economic impact for 60 years, and that’s huge,” Nisbett said.
Twin Rivers issued a press release following the approval with Winterhalter, saying: “When we decided to acquire the paper mill here in Jefferson County, we knew there were significant challenges to meet and a great deal of capital investment required to create a long-term viable entity.
“Our commitment from day one was to begin looking for ways to strategically make the investments necessary to achieve operational excellence and stability for this mill and preserve the jobs for nearly 200 associates. In just our first few weeks, we have started down that road. We have already invested significantly in this facility and taken important steps to improve the manufacturing process, enhance worker safety and dramatically upgrade the environmental aspects of the operation.”
“Even given this there is still a big mountain to climb in front of us but we believe unequivocal in our strategy and the team we have at the mill,” Winterhalter said. “There is a lot of work to do and investments to be made but through this significant grant support, Jefferson County is showing it believes in us to get the job done. We are very grateful for the support — and we will continue to focus on getting the job done. At each of our facilities across, Maine, Mississippi New York and Canada, Twin Rivers serves as a trusted employer and reliable community partner. We intend to be the same here in Pine Bluff and look forward to making this mill a thriving part of the Jefferson County economy for years to come.”
Nisbett said the incentive package paperwork had actually been completed in July but Twin Rivers asked the board to hold off until Winterhalter could fly in to be present.
“I felt it was important to be around a group that is supporting us,” he said.
Winterhalter was joined at the meeting by Pine Bluff Mill Manager Johnny Thein, Joseph Goss from Twin Rivers Engineering and Jordan Johnson of Jordan P. Johnson Consulting of Little Rock.
Tax Board Vice-chairman Glenn Barnes Sr. chaired the meeting in place of Chairman George Makris Jr., who was absent.