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$40 million upgrade underway for Dixie plant in Fort Smith

The Dixie plant in Fort Smith, one of the first manufacturing operations to move to the city after World War II, is receiving a $40 million equipment and facility upgrade for a new plate line expected to begin production in 2015.

Officials with Atlanta-based Georgia Pacific, the parent company of Dixie, announced the expansion Thursday (May 29), saying that employment at the plant will exceed 350 once the new line is fully operational. The company did not provide details on how many jobs will be added as a result of the investment.

"Georgia-Pacific already has invested more than $30 million since 2012. This latest investment will further modernize the plant and improve its long-term competitiveness in plate manufacturing while meeting the growing demands of our consumers and customers," Larry Balch, Dixie plant director, said in a statement. "We appreciate all the support we have received from our local and state economic development partners in making this investment a reality."

The company said work on the capacity expansion has begun.

According to the GP statement, the investment at the Fort Smith plant is part of more than $100 million of planned investments at other Georgia-Pacific facilities in Arkansas during 2014. GP is a privately held company owned by Koch Industries. GP employs 2,400 in Arkansas with salary and benefits of $179 million, noted the company statement.

"We appreciate Georgia-Pacific's latest Arkansas expansion and its continued confidence in the Fort Smith workforce," Gov. Mike Beebe said in the statement. "The company's investments in Sebastian County and across Arkansas repeatedly showcase our role in American manufacturing."

Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, told The City Wire that the investment “helps secure their presence” in Fort Smith. He also said the investment by GP in the Dixie plant also preserves a link to the city’s manufacturing history.

"Georgia-Pacific has been an outstanding corporate citizen in Fort Smith since the facility was built in 1948. This expansion illustrates their commitment to Fort Smith for many years to come," Allen said in the GP statement.

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Any boost to manufacturing jobs in the Fort Smith region is welcome news. The Fort Smith area manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,200 in April, unchanged compared to March, and below the 18,300 in April 2013. Sector employment is down almost 36% from a decade ago when April 2004 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 28,400. Peak employment in the region’s manufacturing sector was first reached in July 2000 when manufacturing jobs totaled 31,700.

Georgia-Pacific is one of the world's leading manufacturers and marketers of bath tissue, paper towels and napkins, tableware, paper-based packaging, office papers, cellulose, specialty fibers, nonwoven fabrics, building products and related chemicals. Familiar brands include Quilted Northern, Brawny, and the Dixie line of paper plates and cups. The company employs approximately 35,000 people directly, and creates nearly 130,000 jobs indirectly.

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