For the first time in more than 20 years, there was a celebration Monday of major construction activity at the Port of Pine Bluff and city officials couldn’t have been any happier.

For the first time in more than 20 years, there was a celebration Monday of major construction activity at the Port of Pine Bluff and city officials couldn’t have been any happier.


Southwind Milling, which is in the final stages of construction of a new rice mill, held a topping-out ceremony as the last beam, bearing flags and a Christmas Tree, was placed at the top of the structure, and according to a construction manager, the ceremony means "everything is downhill from here."


According to tradition, the ceremony will mean good fortune for the company, which announced a year ago that it would be constructing the plant on the site of the former Century Tube facility.


Lou Ann Nisbett, the president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said she was contacted almost two years ago by 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, which had water access.


"I babysat that building, which was 170,000 square feet, for seven or eight years, checking on the copper wire and now they’ve torn it down and put up something brand new," Nisbett said.


Because of the heavy rain overnight, the ceremony was held in a warehouse across the street from the site of the mill and Nisbett said that when she walked in, the first thing she saw was "activity."


"For so many years, there was nothing going, but now we’re seeing action," she said.


Southwind is a member company of Optimum Group, which started farming operations in 2009.


Gaston Marquevich, a partner in Optium Capital Management, and Alberto San Miguel, CEO of Optimum Agriculture, were among the company representatives who were on hand for the ceremony.


"None of this would have been possible without all the help we received from so many people," Marquevich said. "We’re here for the long term."


Also speaking was Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, who said, "It took countless hours to develop and land Southwind, and it was wonderful to see the fruits of our all labor come to fruition."


She said it was also exciting to hear the positive things she heard from the owners and operators of Southwind about the reception they received and to hear about their search for the perfect location for the mill.


"With the port, the railroad and the interstates, they said it didn’t get any better than this," she said. "They described it as a ‘perfect fit.’"


In addition, she said she was also pleased to hear company officials talk about their future in the community.


Southwind is planning to start operations Aug. 1 and has already started the hiring process, which will generate more than 40 jobs.


When the project was originally announced, the projected investment was $15 million, and it has now increased to $34 million, Nisbett said.