by Tyler Hale
Economic development officials are moving on from long-gestating Chinese paper mill in Clark County after the company has paused the project.
The Arkadelphia Alliance and Area Chamber of Commerce announced its plans to begin marketing a super-site developed for Shandong Sun Paper Industry, an endeavor that was announced in 2017 and was planned to be a $1.8 billion project. One of two Chinese projects – the other in Forrest City – the Clark County project was expected to employ 350 individuals and create thousands of more jobs.
However, the ongoing U.S.-China trade war stalled progress on the facility, leading local officials to consider other options. Arkadelphia Alliance and Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Stephen Bell says that while Sun Paper was committed to the project, the outlook was uncertain on the Chinese side.
In order to get Sun Paper building on the site, Bell told Arkansas Money & Politics that the earliest date would likely be in 2021 – after the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. “Our mission as an organization – we have an obligation to the rest of our country and we want to be proactive.
Moving on to other potential companies has not been a light decision. “They’ve done a lot of work on it because they were really ready to start construction this year,” he says.
In order to complete the site, Shandong Sun Paper commissioned an environmental study and archeological survey, and also obtained an air permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and a water permit to draw water from the Ouachita River.
Bell isn’t ruling out Shandong Sun Paper as a potential occupant. The relationships established during the development process, he says, may lead to future collaboration.
“It’s been a long, long time that we’ve been waiting on the project,” he says. “We spent a lot of time working with the Sun Paper executives and staff. There were friendships created from the agreement. That may help in the future – you never know.”
For now, the 1,000 acre super-site will be certified by Entergy, according to a post on the chamber’s official Facebook. After the site’s certification process is completed by Entergy’s Business and Economic Development team, Entergy plans to announce the certification so that it can be marketed.
Bell plans to focus on high-growth industries, including in the car manufacturing and aerospace sectors. The site, though, is expected to remain intact. “We don’t want to divide the property or deal it out. We want to get another large employer,” Bell says.
According to Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston, both the state and Shandong Sun Paper are still committed to the paper mill.
“Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the State of Arkansas remain committed to the Sun Bio project in Arkadelphia, as does the company,” he said in a statement. “While there have been delays due to multiple factors in China, we anticipate them moving forward with the project. The community has been supportive and patient and understandably wants to be prepared for other opportunities.”
For Bell, though, marketing the site to other companies is part of the chamber’s mission. “Our mission as an organization – we have an obligation to the rest of our country and we want to be proactive,” he says.