URANIA, La. (KNOE) - Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Hunt Forest Products co-owner James D. Hunt announced the company will build a state-of-the-art $115 million lumber mill in Urania, a LaSalle Parish community in the heart of Louisiana’s $11 billion forest products industry.
The sawmill project will create 110 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of more than $46,000, plus benefits. Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project also will result in another 307 new indirect jobs, for a total of over 400 new jobs in Central Louisiana. Construction of the mill will begin in April, with operations slated to start in early 2019.
“This project is a great economic boost to the center of the state, in the heart of our historic timber industry,” Gov. Edwards said, “and it will help create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs across the forestry, industrial services and retail sectors in Urania and LaSalle Parish. We thank Hunt Forest Products for the confidence company leaders are showing in Louisiana and our workforce through this investment.”
Based in Ruston, Louisiana, Hunt Forest Products will prioritize buying timber locally. The Urania sawmill will require up to 850,000 tons of wood per year, with plans to produce approximately 200 million board feet of lumber annually. Hunt already operates a LaSalle Parish lumber mill in nearby Olla, along with a Grant Parish plywood plant in Pollock. Statewide, Hunt Forest Products employs 350 before the addition of the new Urania sawmill.
“We are excited to be bringing a high-tech sawmill – and the skilled jobs it will provide – to Central Louisiana, and to provide a local outlet for the massive inventory of southern yellow pine that exists in this region,” said company co-owner Hunt, who also is vice chairman of the Hunt Forest Products board of directors. “This will boost the local economy, bring a new generation of sawmill technology to our state, and provide a much-needed outlet for Central Louisiana timber.”
The new $115 million lumber mill also will be a Foreign Direct Investment, or FDI, project. Operating under the name LaSalle Lumber Company LLC, the sawmill is a joint venture between Hunt Forest Products and Tolko Industries Ltd., a 60-year-old, family-owned Canadian forestry company that produces a wide range of forest products for customers around the world. Based in Vernon, British Columbia, Tolko will own a 50 percent share in the mill, which will be managed and operated by Hunt on a day-to-day basis.
“This is our first venture into the United States,” said Tolko President and CEO Brad Thorlakson, “and we are thrilled to be in Louisiana with Hunt Forest Products, a family-owned company like ours, and one that has played a vital, reliable role in this state’s forestry industry for more than a century.”
LED began formal discussions with Hunt Forest Products about the potential project in June 2017. To secure the project, the State of Louisiana offered a competitive incentive package that includes the comprehensive workforce solutions of LED FastStart®, ranked as the No. 1 state workforce training program in the nation. Hunt Forest Products also will receive a performance-based, forgivable loan of $1 million under the Economic Development Award Program, with those proceeds offsetting the costs to construct a rail spur for the mill. In addition, the company is expected to utilize the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption and Quality Jobs programs.
The project also will generate 150 construction jobs. Upon the sawmill’s scheduled beginning of operations in early 2019, Hunt Forest Products initially will employ 60 people and ramp up to 110 employees at full capacity in succeeding years. Urania Mayor Terri Corley said Hunt Forest Products is working with community officials to coordinate services for the new mill, and to identify and address potential infrastructure issues.
“The forestry industry is what led Henry Hardtner to establish the town of Urania almost 130 years ago, so we’re very pleased to be working with Hunt Forest Products and Tolko to bring LaSalle Lumber Company – a new economic engine – to our community,” Mayor Corley said.
Corley noted the new sawmill will generate revenue for Urania as a customer of its municipal water supply and wastewater treatment system. The mill will be built on 125 acres of the old 285-acre Louisiana Pacific sawmill site. Drax Biomass now occupies the other 160 acres of that site, and the new sawmill is planning to supply residuals and wood fiber to Drax for use in manufacturing wood pellets.
“We are excited about this partnership with Hunt Forest Products and being able to leverage the innovative approach of having a sawmill located next to our newest sustainable wood pellet facility, LaSalle Bioenergy,” said President and CEO Pete Madden of Drax Biomass. “This makes perfect sense for our business model, lowers our carbon footprint, and is an incredibly efficient, cost-effective way to capitalize on wood residuals.”
“Congratulations to LaSalle Parish and Hunt Forest Products LLC on this important announcement for Central Louisiana,” said President and CEO Jim Clinton of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. “LaSalle’s parish and municipal leadership have worked hard to build economic opportunity for their citizens. Our thanks also go out to Governor John Bel Edwards and the professionals at LED for their leadership and commitment.”