Georgia–Pacific Crossett announced last week the decision to permanently close its bleached board operations at the Crossett mill as well as older tissue machines “that don’t support the long-term competitiveness of the tissue business,” a news release from the company said.
The older tissue machines will close in July while the bleached board closure will not go into effect until October.
This will impact approximately 530 jobs, including 25 sales and business office jobs. The remaining workforce will include roughly 500 positions in the consumer tissue and towel business.
Company officials said they will have discussions with union officials in the next month about employees affected by the closures. Those discussions will include the potential to transfer to other GP locations.
The Naheola and Brewton, Ala., mills and the St. Marys, Ga., extrusion facility will take over production of the company’s bleached board product.
Mike Smith, Crossett Economic Development director, said the announcement was a shock to everyone. “The state economic development director didn’t know; Bruce Westerman didn’t know; the governor didn’t know.” The state wasn’t given the opportunity to negotiate a tax break or any kind of agreement with the Koch Brothers before the closure was announced.
However, Smith said during a Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast Thursday, that this does not mean the end of the community.
There are new industry projects in the works and local business owners are staying positive, according to Smith.
Mandy White, the Chamber’s executive director, said “No one is backing down or hanging their heads. It (the breakfast event) was a room full of small business owners, bank representatives, other business representatives and no one was negative- everyone was positive.”
Smith said that everyone recognizes the impact that Georgia–Pacific’s recent announcement will have on the entire town and even surrounding areas, but he believes the community will push through. “We’ve been through this before with the Plywood mill in 2012 and I think Crossett is going to be okay,” he said.
According to Smith, the plywood mill employed 750 people at the time of its shut down. Though a portion of those workers were able to transfer to other areas of the mill, the community definitely saw a hit.
Smith said he has plans to work with other corporations who could potentially relocate to Crossett. He hopes some of those companies will go ahead and hire GP employees who are being laid off in the coming months and train them at their current facilities. Then, once the companies have something established here, transfer them back.
“It’s going to be tough, but nobody in my circle has given up and we aren’t going to give up,” Smith said.
There is also hope in a new Biodiesel fuel plant that will be located past Wal-Mart, Smith said, adding that this is something he was working on even before the news of Georgia–Pacific hit.
“I don’t want to release anything prematurely, but we are working on this,” Smith said. “We have a lot of big things in the works, it’s just going to take some time.”
Smith said he wants to bring in a variety of industry so that the community isn’t so dependent on any one company in the future.
Smith said that in addition to recruiting industries, he will be working with the governor’s task force of displaced workers to host job fairs and be an information hub for the employees from the mill.
The GP announcement didn’t clarify how many workers would be affected in each closure but said that some portions would begin shutting down in July, others could possibly be open until October.
Smith said they will bring in representatives from the unemployment office, people with information on job training and education, and many other resources so that the economic development building can serve as a “one stop shop.”
“We are going to do everything we can to help,” Smith said.
He added that he has people in the community spending their own money and using their own resources to assist him with recruiting industry and offering help with this crisis.
“People are offering up their own talent, time and personal resources and they wouldn’t be doing that if they had given up on Crossett,” Smith said. “And that’s what I want people to know: we haven’t given up and we aren’t going to give up.”
White said that the networking breakfast gave her hope because so many Crossett business owners are ready and willing to take this head on.
Smith said that the people of this community are all here because they want to be and this is where they’ve chosen to build their lives. “And this is where we are going to stay,” Smith said.
Smith said more details on the services that will be offered at the Economic Development Center and career fair dates will be announced soon.