New industry projects are in the works for Crossett and local business owners say they are committed to staying positive in light of recent developments.
“There is no rest in peace for Crossett needed,” Crossett Econmoic Development Foundation Executive Director Mike Smith said during the Crossett Chamber of Commerce Networking Breakfast Thursday, alluding to feelings of anxiety some are experiencing after Georgia-Pacific Crossett’s announced plans to cut or transfer 500 workers from its Crossett productions.
One of the industry projects that could offset worker losses is a biodiesel fuel plant that will be located near Walmart. Smith said this is something he’s been working on even before the news of Georgia Pacific hit, but he doesn’t know any projected dates or specific details.
“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.”
The Crossett Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its quarterly networking breakfast Thursday, and Chamber Executive Director Mandy White said despite the recent industrial news, it was probably the most productive meeting yet.
“No one is backing down or hanging their heads,” White said. “It was a room full of small business owners, bank representatives, other business representatives and no one was negative- everyone was positive,” White said.
Smith said that everyone recognizes the impact that Georgia Pacific’s announcement that it will be closing its bleached board productions, pulpmill and lumberyard will have on the entire town and even surrounding areas, but he believes Crossett will push through.
“We’ve been through this before with the Plywood mill in 2012 and I think Crossett is going to be okay,” Smith said.
The GP Plywood mill employed 750 people at the time of its shut down in 2012. Though a portion of those workers were able to transfer to other areas of the mill, the community saw a hit.
Smith said he has plans to work with corporations that could potentially relocate to Crossett.
Smith said his hope is that some of these companies will go ahead and hire some of the GP employees who are being laid off and train them at their current facilities. Then, once the companies have something established here in Crossett, the companies could transfer them back here.
“It’s going to be tough, but nobody in my circle has given up and we aren’t going to give up,” Smith said.
Smith said that the information GP released on Tuesday was just as much of a shock to him as it was everyone else.
“The state economic development director didn’t know, (U.S. Rep.) Bruce Westerman didn’t know, the governor didn’t know,” Smith said. “They were on the phone saying, ‘Why didn’t someone tell us,’ but we didn’t know.”
Smith said the State of Arkansas wasn’t given the opportunity to negotiate a tax break or any kind of agreement with the Koch Brothers – who own Georgia Pacific – before the closure was announced.
Smith said, however, he wants to bring in a variety of industry so that Crossett isn’t so dependent on any one company in the future.
White said there is also hope in the natural resources of trees and that the it was pointed out in the morning breakfast that Crossett still has that resource.
“Like Johnny Bolin said this morning, ‘We still have trees and they aren’t going to get up and walk away,’” White said.
Smith said 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.
“We don’t have all of the dates yet, but we hope to everything up and ready by the time the first wave hits in July,” Smith said.
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 with others waiting until October.
Smith said the CEDF 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.
Smith said 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.
“We had a room full of 40 businessmen and women and each one had something positive to say, and no one is ready to give up,” White said.
Smith said that the people of Crossett are all here because they want to be, and this is where they’ve chosen to build their lives at.
The Chamber President Amanda Friedman is also a business owner and said though she is not a Crossett native, Crossett is her home and where she plans to stay.
“I moved to Crossett three years ago and One of the biggest factors in my decision was the strong sense of community I felt when I visited Crossett,” Friedman said. “Three years later that has not changed and I’m proud to call Crossett my home.”
Smith said more details on the services that will be offered at the Economic Development Center and career fair dates will be announced soon.