Pine Bluff Rice Mill Gets $9 Million Cash Infusion For $32 Million Project

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 554 views 

Southwind Milling, which is building a $32 million rice mill complex at the Port of Pine Bluff, said it has closed a deal with Luther King Capital Management, a Fort Worth investment fund founded in 1979 that currently manages more than $14 billion in assets.

Southwind Milling’s director, Martin Ametrano said the Texas investment firm will inject $9 million to complete an expansion of the rice mill already under construction at 4215 Emmett Sanders Road in the Port of Pine Bluff’s Harbor Industrial District.

“With the Luther King Team, we will grow our company much larger in the next 10 years,” said Ametrano. “It is a very important investor supporting our project in the community and we plan to develop many more in the near future.”

According to Ametrano, among other projects, the cash infusion will provide funds to refurbish a 251,000-square-foot storage building, also owned by Southwind, located across the street from the mill. At least 18 grain storage bins of the planned footprint have already been built on the mill site, slab reinforcements are being set for the packaging and warehouse area, and structural steel for the mill itself is being erected.

“The project is on schedule and we will be starting operations very soon,” Ametrano said. Operations are scheduled to begin by the third quarter, and more than 50 permanent jobs will be created.

Southwind Milling announced in June 2014 its plans for a $20 million project to create 25 to 30 jobs at Pine Bluff. Since then, the project has grown in scope, capital investments and projected jobs, officials said.

Luther King, or LCKM, is a 36-year old investment advisory firm run by Texan investor J. Luther King Jr. The firm is primarily known for its holdings in oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Cabot Oil, but it also had begun making bets in the healthcare sector and industrial space.

In 2012, the Texas investment firm launched LKCM Headwater Investments I, a private investment partnership that seeks to partner with management teams to build highly successful companies primarily in the lower middle-market.

According to the firm’s website, LKCM is owned and controlled by employees of the firm. LKCM has 80 employees, including 48 investment and other professionals with many educational and professional designations in the investment and financial arena. At March 31, 2015, LKCM had $14.6 billion in assets under management.

The influx of new investment dollars and jobs is another win for Pine’s Bluff economic development team, which has been struggling to attract new jobs and economic development projects to the population-losing Delta city.

The Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance said in January that it initiated a total of 38 new prospect projects in 2014 and had 43 prospect visits to the Delta community in the past year.

Out of those visits and talks, two major projects were announced that totaled $145 million in capital investments, including the Southwind Milling project and $130 million Highland Pellets biomass plant. Southwind is part of the Optimum Group, agriculture and farming holding company that is one of the largest grain producers in the U.S., according to the company’s marketing materials.

The much-talked about Highland Pellets LLC biomass plant was first announced on Aug. 25. That project is expected to create more than 35 direct jobs and another 482 offshoot jobs that would provide an $86 million a year financial bounce to surrounding communities, local economic development officials said.

Highland officials spoke earlier this month at a Rotary Club meeting in Pine Bluff, providing an update on the planned 500,000 square foot facility, economic development officials told Talk Business & Politics. That plant is expected to come online in March 2016.

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