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Coastal Forest Products gearing up for 2010

A water tower that used to sit, covered in rust, outside the Chapman mill now gleams with a fresh coat of white paint and a shiny logo.

Inside, an enhanced lighting system waits to blanket the 200 workers expected to go back to work this January.

The two improvements are among many in a capital investment exceeding $10 million by Coastal Forest Resources, according to CFO Travis Bryant, who shared an update with the Rotary Club of Greenville on Thursday along with local V.P. of Operations Tracy Smith.

“It’s really been a godsend for Butler County,” said Ricky McLaney, executive director of the Butler County Commission for Economic Development.

The sentiment is shared by hundreds of Butler County workers who lost jobs and perhaps thousands more who felt the ripple effects when Chapman Forest Products closed the plant this summer.

Coastal Forest replaced the economic heart of south Butler County when it announced plans to reopen the mill, but it won’t begin to regain rhythm until full-throttle plywood manufacturing begins in January.

If the site meets Bryant and Smith’s projections for lumber production by midyear, that heart will beat to the tune of 260-270 jobs ranging from upwards of $9 to $20 per hour.

“It’s a pretty aggressive timeline, but it looks like we’re going to be there,” Smith said. “We’ve commenced interviews and we’re searching day and night for our management staff as well.”

Smith, who came on board some five years ago when the mill was ran by International Paper, thinks Coastal’s investment will be reflected in a renewed vigor at the operation.

If he’s right — and there’s no reason to believe he isn’t — then those ripple effects will also be felt for miles.

“It’s been very exciting for those of us who have been here for a while,” Smith said.

That’s news that gives Butler County plenty to celebrate this holiday season.