TUESDAY, MAY 9, 2006
Courtland mill expanding
International Paper plans $53 million enlargement; 2,000 seek 24 new jobs

By Clyde L. Stancil
DAILY Staff Writer

cstancil@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

COURTLAND — Vicki Morese is one of about 2,000 people excited about the possibility of 24 job openings at the International Paper mill here.

Morese, the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce executive director, is not one of those hoping to secure a position, but the potential for new jobs both excites her and calms her fears.

She was happy when a company spokesman all but assured a $53 million expansion at the plant during a Monday County Commission meeting, saying it is proof of IP's commitment to keeping the Courtland mill open.

The bulk of the expansion costs will consist of one machine; the rest of it will be modifications to the site.

"This solidifies IP's commitment to keeping the Courtland mill competitive and therefore securing the 1,123 jobs that are already there," Morese said Monday outside the meeting.

"It's a twofold win for Lawrence County. We're getting a promise of additional jobs for installation and maintenance of the new equipment. But it also puts us at ease with all the rumors of hardship at IP."

Through Alabama Industrial Development Training, International Paper advertised in THE DAILY for applications for pre-employment training April 16. AIDT received about 2,000 applications from April 17 to April 26.

IP spokeswoman Judy Hood said the company's board of directors will meet this week to determine if it will approve the expansion. She said company officials are "cautiously optimistic" about the chances for approval.

Already the company has received a $425,000 abatement for construction taxes. That will not affect taxes associated with education. Courtland Industrial Development Board attorney Gene Lentz sent the County Commission a letter advising its members that the board approved the motion March 28.

Hood was at the Monday meeting for matters related to logging, but commissioners asked her to respond to statements that District 2 Commissioner Hutson Parker made in reference to the abatement.

Parker said the state Legislature needs to change a law that allows municipal industrial development boards to abate taxes that affect the entire county.

"It seems to me that it really is an unfair law," Parker said. "I don't think it's right for a handful of people who are not elected by the citizens to make that kind of decision."

Courtland's elected officials appoint the board members.

Hood apologized for the commission's lack of knowledge of the issue. She said, however, that large projects often are contingent on local government agencies' willingness to abate taxes.

"I do appreciate the ongoing support of the whole community, and it has been noticed by our company, and I'm sure it influences the decision to put capital money into the Courtland mill," she said. "When you look at the economic impact of a project of this magnitude, that's $53 million into this community. Obviously it's going to require some contractors along with our regular work base."

The mill's work force is one of three reasons that Hood said IP decided to expand here.

"These people are very dedicated and hard-working and knowledgeable about what they are doing," she said. "The other thing is the community support. The third is mill size. There is an economy of scale. We are one of IP's largest facilities"

The new machine will allow workers to produce paper at a much faster rate. The Courtland mill produces uncoated free sheet, which is one of IP's key businesses.

"It (the machine) will help us to be a low-cost provider of our product," Hood said.

The expansion comes at a time when the demand for paper is steadily declining because of the move toward electronic means of communication, Hood said.

"So what's happened is paper mills all over the country are closing their doors," she said. "We're hopeful that if this project is approved, this mill will play a significant role in the future of the company."

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