Our View: Kudos to the governor on China paper mill deal

The fruits of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s labor must be paying off, and it appears all the talking he has done over his goal to attract foreign investors and focus on economic development has attracted the attention of a publicly traded Chinese company that we’re told wants to build a $1.36 billion pulp mill right here in Arkansas. Yes, that’s right, a $1.36 billion investment in south Arkansas, according to Hutchinson’s office. The governor was also informed that the company, Shandong Sun Paper Industry Joint Stock Co., which employs more than 10,000 workers worldwide, that it would hire “necessary third parties to help with investment matters, such as choosing the location of the mill. Why somewhere in the south portion of the state? Well, Southern Arkansas has at least 7 million tons of surplus timber growth every year. In the last decade, the region has build up to 75 million tons of available timber plus the 7 million tons a year. This is an enormous project that we’re told will have a production capacity of 700,000 tons a year, which means the mill would need to harvest about 3 million tons of timber a year to produce 700,000 tons of pulp. So then, what’s the hitch? Well, Arkansas will be responsible for proposing incentives for the project, including preferential tax policies and other policy supports before May 1. This would be similar to what former Gov. Mike Beebe put together in landing the major steel manufacturing operation in neighboring Osceola. The governor made a point of reminding his critics that this announcement is proof that trade missions, such as those he is committed to, are important. Arkansas has been working to attract a Chinese company for a large project for several years, and now it seems as if all the work is paying big dividends. What also needs to be mentioned in all this positive news is that the Sun Paper plant will impact much more than just the timber landowners. Also benefiting from this will be the scores of related industries that sell chemicals, parts supplies and paper machine components. Plus, the plant will be a very large user of electricity, which would be of great benefit to Entergy Corp. and Mid-continent Independent System Operator, which operates much of the electricity grid in Arkansas. To put all this into some type of perspective, we must clearly understand that if this materializes, the Sun Paper plant would be the single largest super project in Arkansas. What also must be understood is that under state requirements, a super project, which this will be, is required to employ at least 500 workers and must invest more than $500 million. Now then, we mentioned Big River Steel, which is nearing completion in Osceola. That is a whopping $1.3 billion project and is set to begin operation in 2016, scheduled to employ about 525 workers, each earning about $75,000 a year. With outside investments such as these we can see Gov. Hutchinson’s dream of economic success truly become a reality. But, let us clarify, the steel plant was primary the work of former Gov. Beebe and those lawmakers serving with him at the time.

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