Hutchinson touts China trip as engineering plans for south Arkansas pulp mill get the go ahead

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 308 views 

As Shandong Sun Paper moves forward with construction on a $1 billion, modern bio-products mill in Arkadelphia, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday (Sept. 13) he will return to China for a second time to bolster the state’s relationship with the Chinese paper goods giant and other Asian business prospects.

“We want to maintain our relationship with Sun Paper, so I will be visiting there and we will be calling on some additional industries that have promise, and so we want to make our case,” Hutchinson said at the Little Rock Airport’s announcement Tuesday concerning Envoy Air’s new $2 million maintenance hangar in Central Arkansas.

Last week, Arkansas Economic Development Chief Mike Preston told Talk Business & Politics that he and the governor will make the trade visit to Shanghai, China on Oct. 15-21 to meet again with Sun Paper officials concerning the South Arkansas project.

In late April, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a memorandum of understanding with Sun Paper Chairman and Founder Hongxin Li to bring the Chinese conglomerate to south Arkansas to invest more than $1 billion to build a paper manufacturing facility creating 250 new jobs at an annual average salary of $52,000. That agreement came after nearly two years of negotiations that began with Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration, state officials have said.

Three months after the deal was announced, Sun Paper officials revealed the construction start had been pushed back six months from the first quarter of 2017 to the third quarter because of delays in completing ongoing pre-engineering and feasibility studies for the bio-product paper mill.

On Monday (Sept. 12), however, Sun Paper officials announced they completed talks with global consulting and engineering firm Pöyry Engineering of Helsinki, Finland, to begin design plans for the multibillion project in south Arkansas. According to a news release from Little Rock-based Mullenix & Associates, which is representing Sun Paper, Pöyry has in-depth knowledge of the pulp and paper industry from raw materials and production through to end products.

“As the Shandong Sun Paper project continues, Pöyry will bring helpful insight due to being involved in 90% of the world’s major pulp mill designs,” noted the statement.

In addition to the contract with the Finnish engineering giant, Arkansas firms will work with Pöyry in the pre-engineering and environmental permitting phases of the project, Mullenix officials said.

With the Sun Paper project plans now back in motion, Hutchinson said he also plans to promote the state’s agriculture and farming industry to business and government officials on the upcoming trip to China.

“We want to open up doors of trade to China from Arkansas, so I will be meeting with governor officials. We will see if there are any more specifics between now and then,” the governor said.

Unlike some previous business deals with the state of Arkansas and foreign businesses, Hutchinson and Preston have recently reiterated that negotiations with Chinese companies take more time and require more patience to establish strong relationships and business ties.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but we’ve done a lot of work and have a lot of good positive momentum and PR out of China after the Sun Paper announcement. A lot of companies have been interested, and hopefully some of those can come to fruition,” Preston said in a recent interview.