Plant brings its 130 jobs to Clarke
County agrees to provide benefits worth $16.85 million in public funding

Thursday, December 09, 2004
Staff Reporter

Clarke County has landed a 130-job, $150-million oriented strand board plant in exchange for $16.85 million in public funding, officials announced Wednesday.

The County Commission, the state, the county's Industrial Development Board and Louisiana-Pacific Corp. signed a memorandum of understanding in which elected officials agreed to buy 820 acres for the company, build a road into it as well as a railroad spur, waive non-school property taxes, extend sewer and water service at no cost to Louisiana-Pacific and keep all permit fees to a minimum.

"They offered us a very competitive package," said company spokeswoman Mary Cohn. "They wanted us."

In a news release, the Nashville-based company said it will likely start the first construction phase during next year's third quarter and start production in late 2007. The plant will be located south of Thomasville near a community called Sandflat. Much of the 820 acres will serve as a buffer zone.

Louisiana-Pacific is the world's leading maker of oriented strand board, or OSB, according to Hoover's Inc., a business reporting firm. It makes more than 6 billion feet a year. The board is made from wood chips that are oriented in one direction to increase strength. Glued together with resin, the strands are heated and pressed to make sheets. OSB is often substituted for plywood.

The memorandum is not binding and further details must be worked out, such as how much the company would pay to lease the land from the county, said Debra Bolen, executive director of the Clarke County Development Foundation, also serving as the county's spokesperson for the deal. The details must be worked out by May 31.

Such incentive packages for private enterprises have drawn fire from critics who see them as siphoning off dollars from public goods and services and creating costly competition between public bodies.

Bolen conceded that the amount of public funding involved is a large sum. Clarke County's portion is $6.65 million.

But, she added, "It's a lot of benefit to Clarke County. It's just a wonderful opportunity for us. Not only the 130 direct jobs but above that, it is anticipated that because of the nature of this industry, an additional 300 jobs could be created in the timber sector."

The location is at the heart of a rural area with some of the highest jobless rates in the state. Neighboring Wilcox County had the highest jobless rate in the state in October -- 16.4 percent, according to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations. The rate for Clarke County was not specified on the department's Web site. However, it was at least 8.6 percent that month.

Wages will start at above $9 an hour, the memorandum said.

Cohn said the company will hire between 25 and 30 skilled craft people, such as electricians and millwrights, who would earn an average of $17 an hour, as well as between 70 and 85 operators, who would earn an average of $11 or $12 an hour. It also needs supervisors and human resource workers, she said.

Employees would receive benefits comparable to major U.S. companies, such as health and dental insurance, retirement plans and vacation and sick time, she said.

As well, she said, the company wants to buy southern pine from local growers.

"We call it the wood basket," she said, of the heavily wooded surrounding area.

The venture will generate $580,000 for county schools, Bolen said.

Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day could not be reached for comment, nor could other elected officials. One county commissioner who was reached, Rhondel Rhone, declined to comment, instead referring all questions to Bolen.

"That's the way we do it," he said. "If you want information, you're going to have to go through that office."

Bolen said the county decided to appoint her spokeswoman to make sure that all information was coming from one voice.

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