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Southwind to build rice mill, employ 30 at Port of Pine Bluff

by Glen Chase | June 3, 2014 at 2:38 a.m.

Southwind Milling Co. LLC, a division of the private equity firm Optimum Group, announced plans Monday to build a rice mill at the Port of Pine Bluff.

The mill is expected to add 30 jobs, which could nearly double with future expansions.

Southwind purchased the site from the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority in September and recently demolished a building. It expects the new mill will be operating by February, with the capacity to process 13.2 tons per hour, the company said in a release. The company is also considering an expansion in the next two or three years that would double the mill's capacity, as well as add a rice-flour mill and a port dock for direct barge loading.

On Monday, Optimum spokesman Martin Ametrano declined to release the amount being invested in the project, except to say it would be more than the $15 million reported in February in documents received by the Port Authority. Optimum is based in Miami.

In its release, Southwind said it plans to move its Arkansas operations office from one of its Jefferson County farms closer to the rice-mill property. Optimum began farming in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana in 2009, according to its website.

Project manager Ron Craig said he hopes construction on the drying and storage facilities will begin later this month, followed by the 50,000-square-foot building needed to house the rice-milling equipment. He said the milling equipment has already been purchased from various manufacturers.

"It's going to be on the fast track," to meet the February opening date, Craig said.

Craig said Southwind, which has about 35,000 acres in production, had been selling its crop to other rice mills. It made an investment decision, however, to open its own mill to sell processed rice and rice flour directly to wholesalers.

Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said the project qualified for a tax credit based on its hiring through the Advantage Arkansas Program, as well as refunds of sales taxes paid on building materials, machinery and equipment. The commission will also provide training assistance.

In addition, the commission and the Arkansas Development Finance Authority will each guarantee $5 million in industrial-revenue bonds for the project, authority spokesman Derrick Rose said. The Finance Authority will also provide the project with a low-interest, $1 million loan through the federally funded Small Business Credit Initiative, which is administered by the authority, Rose said.

Lou Ann Nisbett, president of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said in the release that the alliance and port authority began working with Southwind in early 2013 when company officials toured the port.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Southwind's new mill take shape and to all the activity it will generate at the port," Nisbett said.

Business on 06/03/2014

Print Headline: Southwind to build rice mill, employ 30 at Port of Pine Bluff


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