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Chapman mill to re-open in January

In a county that has seen its unemployment rate rise every month since the beginning of the year, Thursday brought some good news: Coastal Forest Products, LLC, will re-open the Chapman plywood mill.

A host of dignitaries and invited guests were on hand at the Butler County Magnet School for the announcement Thursday morning, welcoming CFP officials with an open handshake.

And an open heart.

“It is a blessed day for our people,” said Jesse McWilliams, Butler County Commission Chairman. “The people with Coastal are hardworking people, just like the people in our county are. I thank them for giving us this chance.”

Kevin Luzak, President of Coastal Forest, said tentative plans are for the mill to re-open in January of 2010. Luzak said the mill would employ 265 people once operational. Coastal Forest plans to invest $10 million into the mill.

“We’re going to make a significant investment in the mill, bring its operations up to date and return it to profitability,” said Luzak. “We will be a stable, long-term employer in Butler County. We’re here to stay and we’re very excited.”

Coastal Forest Products, LLC, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Coastal Forest Resources Co., which operates forest products manufacturing facilities in Florida, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and, now, Alabama.

Luzak said a history of family ties between the Berringers, owners of Coastal, and the McGowins, owners of the Chapman mill when it was the W.T. Smith Lumber Co, also helped bring the deal to fruition.

“We know the mill very well,” said Luzak. ” A few years ago when IP (International Paper) was trying to sell it we were in deep conversation with them about it, but we weren’t able to…It’s been a long time coming.”

Coastal purchased the mill through foreclosure proceedings. In June, then-owner Philip Smith was forced to close the mill due to decreased demand brought on by the recession. Coastal acquired Smith’s debt on the mill soon after and purchased the mill outright for $1.85 million in August.

Georgiana Mayor Mike Middleton who, along with McWilliams, Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon and Ricky McLaney, director of the Butler County Commission for Economic Development, met with Coastal representatives in June said he left that meeting with hope for the future.

“You kind of got the sense they (CFP) wanted to come,” he said. “But then if you stopped to think what has to be put into it (the mill) to get it where they want it…were they willing to risk that much money? But when it all came through, it’s a great day for Butler County.”

Middleton said he hears one thing when talking to those former mill employees who were affected by its closure:

“They want to work, because unemployment is not paying the bills,” said Middleton.

Gov. Bob Riley also welcomed the news.

“These new jobs mean more opportunity and a brighter future for many families in Butler County,” said Riley in a released statement. “On behalf of the entire state, I thank Coastal for this investment in Alabama and this vote of confidence in our workforce and our future.”

Those wishing to submit an application with Coastal Forest Products can apply through the Alabama Career Center.