Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.


E-l-e-c-t-r-i-c-i-t-y. We were using a lot of it before last week’s welcome cool-down gave us a temporary break from summer’s heat. It was in the air during the recent severe thunder storms. And it was definitely in the air at the Economic Development Alliance offices last week as back-to-back announcements showcased two important projects representing countless hours of work by the Alliance economic development team.


• First, on Aug. 21, the group more commonly referred to as the county sales tax board approved a $572,500 incentive for Madawaska, ME-based Twin Rivers Paper Co. Twin Rivers’ purchase of the Mondi Paper Mill here was finalized on June 4, and the company plans millions of dollars in capital investments here for significant mill upgrades. The company also will retain the nearly 200 jobs at the 60-year-old facility located at 1701 Jefferson Parkway in Pine Bluff.


• The following day, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System approved a $30 million commitment toward the $3.5 billion natural gas-to-liquid plant that Energy Security Partners (ESP) plans to build in Jefferson County. That project is expected to create about 2,400 construction jobs and 225 permanent job at the plant itself, with average annual salaries estimated at over $75,000. Additionally, ESP announced that it had secured funding to complete project front-end engineering and design, a major milestone. The Alliance has been responding to questions about the project’s status since the original announcement by saying it continues to move forward. Now, we can report it’s taken a giant step — and continues to move forward.


Twin Rivers President Ken Winterhalter made a point of being in Pine Bluff for the Economic Development Corporation meeting. The tax board quickly approved the incentive package — proposed and vetted by the Alliance — after hearing Winterhalter’s description of the company’s commitment to making the investments necessary to achieve operational excellence and stability for the mill, which Winterhalter said would continue making the same [kraft] papers.


A distributed news release said Twin Rivers had identified over $19 million of potential capital investments needed at the facility. The amount of investments, along with retention of 190 current jobs, was the basis for formulating the proposed incentive amount of $572,500.


Identifying the company’s headquarters location for those unfamiliar with Maine, Winterhalter said Madawaska is right at the Canadian border “at the northeast-most point in the United States” and from which, he said he frequently jokes, one “can see the end of the earth.”


Winterhalter also noted that Twin Rivers intends to be a trusted employer and a reliable community partner and is a good fit for Pine Bluff.


Down here in the Delta with our own two (twin) rivers — the Arkansas and the Mississippi — that appears to be true on several levels.