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GP reopens plants to salvage timber from Katrina

It is estimated that Hurricane Katrina damaged a staggering $1.3 billion worth of timber in Mississippi. But not all of that is going to waste. Georgia-Pacific has restarted two plants in South Mississippi to help salvage the hurricane downed timber into plywood and lumber.

An idled plywood plant in Gloster, which is located in Amite County south of Natchez, and a closed sawmill in Roxie, located between Meadville and Natchez in Franklin County, are now back in operation providing about 450 jobs. An estimated 1,000 indirect jobs have been created through suppliers including transportation companies.

“Mississippi is grateful for Georgia-Pacific’s continued support, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” said Gov. Haley Barbour. “I am proud of the response we are seeing from our private and corporate citizens, as well as people and organizations from around the world. It assures us that Mississippi will be rebuilt bigger and better than ever.”

Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said the reopening of the Georgia-Pacific facilities shows that the state’s efforts assist existing companies and attracting new ones to the state are undiminished by Hurricane Katrina.

“Mississippi remains a great place to do business with a motivated workforce, a low cost of doing business, and state and local governments that are actively seeking development,” Speed said.

Tremendous impact

For Gloster, which had a population of 1,073 before the storm, the economic impact has been tremendous, said Gloster Mayor Billy Johnson.

“It has been a great economic impact because it is employing 350 people,” Johnson said. “It has had a positive, great impact on the whole area, including the surrounding towns. The plant is running 24 hours per day. Our local stores are staying open later and are doing more business. And I have been contacted by different businesses who want to locate here now. So it has been a great asset.”

Since the hurricane, the town’s population has increased by an estimated 50%. Mayor Johnson said they estimate between 500 to 600 people have relocated to Gloster since Hurricane Katrina. Many have bought property, and are here to stay.
Johnson said the plywood mill is also helping the local economy by purchasing timber from property owners.

“I hope they get most of the trees up before they rot,” Johnson said.

The downed timber is also a fire hazard. So harvesting it could help prevent damaging forest fires.

A Georgia-Pacific sawmill in Roxie has also opened, employing more than 100 people.

A.D. “Pete” Correll, chairman and CEO officer of Georgia-Pacific, said that as a long time corporate citizen of Mississippi, Georgia-Pacific is delighted to restart these facilities and help revitalize the state.

“This has been an incredibly trying time for Mississippi and neighboring states,” Correll said. “At Georgia-Pacific, we’re truly thankful to be in a position to assist the people of Mississippi by creating jobs and at the same time, providing much-needed materials to rebuild homes and businesses in the aftermath of Katrina.”

While the facilities will use downed lumber to begin with, they are expected to remain open after the salvage operations conclude. “We wouldn’t start them up and bring them back and then in a couple of years say, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re closing,’” Cornell said.

Georgia-Pacific built the Gloster plywood plant in 1967 and acquired the Roxie lumber mill in 1973. The Gloster plywood facility has a capacity of 285 million square feet of panels each year. The Roxie sawmill can produce 100 million board feet of lumber per year.

Both facilities were closed for about three years before reopening. James Malone, corporate spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, said during the idle years, the company continued to maintain the plant and mill and kept a skeleton staff.

“One of our philosophies is that idle plants stay run-ready, have a skeleton staff and keep the plant in the most optimal position without the machinery being run,” Malone said. “Our ability to be where we are now is proof of the importance of having that kind of preparation.”

Georgia-Pacific has been working with relief agencies such as The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army to assist in Katrina relief efforts. The company has committed more than $2.5 million of in-kind donations of paper towels, bath tissue and disposable tableware. In addition,

Georgia-Pacific employees have donated more than $171,000 to date, which will be fully matched by the company.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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