Arkansas community pitches Chinese mill site to other firms

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A community in southwest Arkansas plans to pitch a site it has been holding for a $1.8 billion Chinese paper mill to other industrial prospects amid growing signs that the project's future is at risk because of trade tensions.

Sun Paper announced in 2016 it would build a facility on the 1,000-acre site in Arkadelphia in 2016. The project has since faced uncertainty because of President Donald Trump's ongoing trade dispute with China, so the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance decided to market to other prospects.

“We just didn't want to wait a year or longer to see if a trade agreement is signed,” said Stephen Bell, the alliance's president and chief executive officer. “We feel like we should be proactive and market the site to industrial prospects and see what we get.”

Bell said the alliance hasn't given up on the project, but that Sun Paper officials told them during a visit to China in October that the mill was on pause because of the trade dispute. He said the site, which has already undergone engineering work and received water permits, could be attractive to another large project.

The alliance's decision was first reported Monday by Arkansas Business.

State officials said Arkansas and the company remain committed to the project about 65 miles (105 kilometers) southwest of Little Rock, Arkansas.

“While there have been delays due to multiple factors in China, we anticipate them moving forward with the project," Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said in a statement. “The community has been supportive and patient and understandably wants to be prepared for other opportunities."

Local government had used revenue from a half-cent sales tax in Clark County to buy the site, located about 5 miles south of Arkadelphia. In 2017, officials said they expected the mill to create hundreds of jobs and employ 2,000 people during its construction. State incentives included $12.5 million for site preparation and equipment, and up to $3 million in workforce training funds.

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