Georgia-Pacific is the latest industry in Rome and Floyd County to reveal plans for a major upgrade to its facility, following companies like Profile Custom Extrusions, Mohawk, Bekaert and International Paper. Georgia-Pacific plans to invest $30 million to acquire and install new equipment at the company’s Rome lumber mill on Mays Bridge Road.
Like the other expansions, the reinvestment in Rome will not directly result in a large gain of employees, but does ensure the viability of existing jobs into the future. Rome City Manager Sammy Rich said that in the economic development world it’s always easier to retain, expand and grow the existing pool of businesses.
“The fact remains that about 80 percent of net new jobs come from expansions of those (firms) that are already in your community,” Rich said. He also said that ultimately, the large reinvestments in new technology do add to the tax base because the investment adds to the personal property value at any given industrial site.
The Rome mill, which was opened on a 38-acre tract right next to what is now International Paper, currently employs 163 people. G-P spokesman Rick Kimble said he does not believe the technology upgrades will lead directly to any new hires.
“We are in the business right now in all of our building product sites, lumber, plywood, OSB, trying to get these sites more efficient,” Kimble said. “It is an investment for the future and ensures the jobs we do have and, quite honestly, may make those jobs better.”
Significant upgrades to a number of the leading manufacturers in the immediate Rome area arguably began just prior to the recession a decade ago when Profile received $7 million in bond financing in 2005 for the addition of a new press. The amount was actually increased to $8 million a year later. The new extrusion press proved to be a stroke of genius because it allowed Profile to dramatically improve the company’s productivity.
“We could drop prices and still be competitive and put out a great product,” David Newby, division president for Profile Custom Extrusions said. “It also allowed us to go into markets we were not able to access beforehand.”
The Georgia-Pacific investment will allow the building products division of the industrial giant to push out approximately 20 percent more lumber with enhanced quality and additional varieties.
The new equipment includes a planer, which is critical to getting lumber into the process to begin with.
“Every piece of lumber produced has to go through the planer, so you’ve got to have a functioning efficient planer,” Kimble said. “Once it comes out of the planer it has to be sorted and graded and having additional bays will help that as well.” The company plans to expand the number of bays from 27 to 65.
“A capital investment such as this means Georgia-Pacific believes in this site and is committed to it for the long haul,” said plant manager Ken McDonald in a press release. “Our employees, our customers and the community will benefit from these improvements.”
In 2013, Mohawk revealed plans to reinvest $31 million at its former yarn spinning plant on Lavender Drive, saving more than 230 jobs. Around the same time, International Paper came to the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority, now the lead agency for industrial recruitment in Rome and Floyd County, seeking $125 million to $150 million in bond financing for the giant Rome mill that sits adjacent to the Georgia-Pacific mill. The IP announcement came one week after IP announced it was closing a large plant in Courtland, Alabama, costing that community close to 1,000 jobs. The Courtland mill made magazine paper while the Rome mills makes linerboard, used for shipping boxes, a sector that has flourished thanks to burgeoning internet sales activity. The IP expansion did result in about 40 new jobs at the mill over the course of several years.
Around the same time, Bekaert decided to upgrade the technology at the Rome plant and was just starting work on the $29 million upgrade when a massive fire caused extensive damages to the plant. The company took another look at it as commitment to the operation in Rome and rebuilt and has helped save more than 200 jobs at the steel wire mill.
In December of 2018, International Paper came back to the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority seeking another $150 million over three years to further upgrade technology at the Rome mill, pledging to retain more than 500 jobs.
Rome Floyd Chamber Economic Development Director Heather Seckman said that having existing businesses expand is a powerful tool in her arsenal for dealing with potential new industry.
“They see that our existing industries are expanding and growing. It shows them that people can flourish in Rome and Floyd County,” Seckman said. She also said that use of new technology and automation is a trend that is only likely to grow in the future. She said the Chamber has devoted a lot of time and resources in recent years trying to connect the local high schools and colleges with the local industrial base to try to show educators the value of what has in the past been considered “blue-collar jobs.”
“Manufacturing is not your grandfather’s manufacturing plant anymore. You know, some of it may be dangerous, but you can make a lot of money and not have a lot of student loan debt,” Seckman said.
Engineering work for the upgrade at Georgia-Pacific is underway and the company expects concrete work to get underway early this summer. The equipment could be installed by mid-summer and the upgrades ready to start producing finished lumber shortly after Thanksgiving. The mill will shut down briefly to tie in the new equipment and reopen in early December.
The mill was a joint venture of the Mead Corporation and Inland Container Corp. Georgia-Pacific acquired the facility in 2013 as part of the acquisition of International Paper’s Temple-Inland Building Products division. Georgia-Pacific produces lumber strictly from Southern pine and the upgrades are expected to enable the plant to produce greater varieties of cuts for builders. Plant Manager McDonald said the mill takes in about 100 truck loads of raw timber a day with the goal of shipping about 30 truckloads of finished lumber.