Company plans to increase investment in Gum Springs mill

Members of the Economic Development Corporation of Clark County learned first hand Tuesday about a change to the pending Sun Bio project.
According to Ray Dillon, consultant for Sun Bio, Sun Paper’s Chairman Li Hongxin recently announced plans that include an increase in the investment for the Gum Springs mill.
As a consequence, the total investment is now projected at approximately $1.8 billion dollars and will likely provide an additional 100 jobs for a total of approximately 350 jobs.
“There has been a change to the end product that was announced earlier,” said Dillon.
According to Dillon, based on the initial plans, Sun Bio would have been classified as a bleached dissolving pulp mill.
“The end product has been changed to unbleached linerboard,” Dillon explained.
Linerboard is used to make corrugated boxes, packaging and wrappers.
“Linerboard is the face on the inside of the box and the outside of the box. The fluted portion that you see inside is corrugated,” Dillon said.
According to Dillon, the new design and product will be linerboard that will be made for boxes.
The changes come as part of a new focus after extensive feasibility studies have just recently been completed.
After looking at world markets and facilities across the globe, Chairman Li has finalized one of his most important decisions for the project.
“The project will have two linerboard paper machines. There will be a lightweight linerboard machine and there will be a heavyweight linerboard machine. The lightweight linerboard machine will be designed to do 1900 tons a day and the heavyweight machine will be designed to do 2400 tons a day for a total of 4300 tons a day of linerboard production,” said Dillon.
As a consequence, the local mill will be one of the largest linerboard mills in the United States.
“The end product will primarily be used for export, primarily into China,” Dillon said.
In addition, wood consumption for the new design of the mill will be higher and more than the projected use in the previous design.
“The other good news is this capital investment will be higher,” Dillon said, who added that preliminary engineering for the redesign has started, as well as modifications to environmental permits.
“In summary, we’ve got a different product, we’ve got a larger capital investment, we’ve got more permanent employees and more wood consumption. I would say it is a great day for Arkadelphia,” Dillon said.
When asked about a timeline for the beginning of construction, Dillion estimated it would begin in early 2019.
“I don’t have specific timeline. We are in the preliminary engineering phase again. It would also depend on permits. It is probably not a this year event, it is probably a next year event. But, that could change,” said Dillon.
Despite the changes, Dillon still estimates a two-year construction period for the mill.
“It is really a bigger facility than the previous one. The parts and pieces are just different,” Dillon said.
With the new design and product, Dillon said the mill will not be a “stinking” paper mill.
“This is still high environmental standards, with the best technology available to build this mill and the least amount of odor possible, but it won’t be offensive to the community like paper mills were in the 1960s,” said Dillon.
In addition, Dillon does not foresee the changes impacting the local incentives already offered to Sun Bio.
A concern was presented regarding the likeliness of Sun Bio actually coming to Clark County. Dillon asserted that the mill was definitely coming.
“I talked to Chairman Li and he has told me that he has told the governor that he is going to build it. I went to Shandong to visit with them and he point blank, specifically told me he wants to build a facility in Arkadelphia. When President Trump was in China roughly a month ago, if you remember, he announced $500 billion of projects. This project is on that list. Every indication is that this plant is going to be built. We have to continue to do what we are doing, they like the positive community reception they have received here,” said Dillon, who added that Sun Bio is a big project for Li and Sun Bio representatives.
“Quite frankly, he (Li) wants to get it right. We have to continue to work with them and let them work through their processes until they get ready to break ground,” Dillon added.
Stephen Bell, president/CEO for the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance and Area Chamber of Commerce confirmed that based on his discussions with Sun Bio delegates the project has always been moving forward.