An overseas paper company is branching out in Arkansas, bringing a much-needed boost to the state’s forestry sector.
With 19 million acres of productive timberland, Arkansas is the second-leading lumber-producing state in the South and fourth in the nation. It is no wonder Chinese pulp and paper manufacturer Sun Paper has decided to build a paper mill in Arkadelphia, located in Clark County.
“Sun Paper made it clear that their top priorities were access to timber and a strong workforce in the manufacturing/forestry sector. Arkansas met both of these qualifications with ease,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson says.
“We have a cost of doing business that is among the lowest in the nation and a spirit of cooperation between state and local government that makes locating a facility in Arkansas an efficient and organized process,” he adds.
Hutchinson says Sun Paper was also attracted to the state’s central location and well-established manufacturing sector.
“Companies such as Georgia Pacific, Weyerhaeuser, International Paper and Domtar have significant operations in the state due to our natural resources, central location and strong workforce.
Arkansas’s forestry sector directly employs over 28,000 workers, and the percentage of our workforce in manufacturing ranks as the sixth highest among all states, with 12.7 percent employed in manufacturing,” he says.
“Our companies in the forestry sector also have easy access to markets throughout the United States and the world,” he adds. “There are four ports in the state located on the Mississippi River, and Interstates 40 and 30 put Arkansas in a perfect location to ship products to destinations around the world.”
Above all else, Sun Paper was attracted to the abundance of wood fiber that is available in Arkansas to manufacture its products. Currently, there are more than 9 million tons of pine fiber in excess of what is being harvested annually for use by forest products manufacturers – more than enough for Sun Paper, which could use up to 4 million tons of pine timber per year.
The Root of Healthy Forests
Joe Fox, state forester with the Arkansas Forestry Commission, says the state has added 1.8 million acres of timberland since 1978. Now, the forests are in danger of becoming too dense, and as they age and become overcrowded, they become less healthy and more susceptible to fire and disease.
“A drought could be quite devastating. When the woods or the forest is too dense, too thick, with too many trees competing for the same minerals and elements in the soil, the same water and sunlight, many of them get sick and die. And all of them are less healthy. That means insects and diseases can take hold,” Fox says. “Fire is the big, big danger. Get a couple years of drought with 200 trees per acre instead of 50, and that’s a problem.”
Fox says new facilities like Sun Paper provide a market for a portion of the state’s excess fiber. An expanded market will help thin forests, allowing more sunlight to reach the ground and more native plants to grow, creating food and cover for birds and wildlife.
New markets for forest products also give timberland owners a greater return on their investment, giving them a greater incentive to continue to replant and sustainably manage their forests.
“New manufacturing facilities provide direct employment and excellent wages, and new markets for timberland owners that are badly needed. They increase the need for additional loggers, truck drivers and other related workers, and much more. Just as important, new facilities can be a catalyst for improved forest health,” says Max Braswell, executive vice president of the Arkansas Forestry Association.
Growing the Economy
The total economic impact of the forest products industry in Arkansas is more than $15.9 billion. Sun Paper’s investment of $1.3 billion to open its new bio-products mill in south Arkansas will make that number even higher.
“Not only will it create 250 jobs at the mill, but we expect to see up to 1,000 indirect jobs in trucking, logging and forestry,” says Stephen Bell, president and CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance. “We expect Sun Paper to attract other industries related to the timber industry to our area. We also expect Clark County to become a major hub for transportation, particularly rail service. We view Sun Paper as the cornerstone for growing our local and regional economy.”