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CROSSETT -- The town of Crossett sprouted from wilderness and rejection at the dawn of the 20th century to staff the Crossett Lumber Co.'s sawmill in the southeast Arkansas forest.

Although the company and its work have changed -- its successors now operate a large paper mill there -- the enterprise remains tightly linked with the surrounding town of 5,500 people.

Three investors from Iowa were initially interested in building in nearby Hamburg, the Ashley County seat, but ultimately built a town of their own. Crossett Lumber Co. formed in 1899, and the town was formally incorporated four years later. Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, owns the complex today.

"The City Council of Hamburg, way back in the 1800s, declined" to accommodate the sawmill, said Jennifer King, the mill's public affairs officer. "So the owners said, 'OK, that's fine.' They drove 15 miles this way on their horses and oxen, and set up camp in the middle of the woods, and Crossett began."

Early Crossett Lumber Co. employees were paid in company currency -- after their housing payments were deducted -- which could be spent on groceries and other household necessities, King said.

"This was at one point the quintessential company town," she said.

Georgia-Pacific bought the sawmill and plywood plant in 1962 and shortly afterward began producing tissue paper at the site. Later that decade, it added a chemicals plant. Georgia-Pacific eventually closed the plywood plant -- which burned down last year -- and sold its chemicals division.

Koch Industries bought Georgia-Pacific for more than $13 billion in 2005 and took the public company private. Today, the Crossett facility is the company's second-largest paper mill, King said.

Koch Industries and Georgia-Pacific have facilities throughout much of Arkansas, including GP Harmon Recycling in Fayetteville, the Dixie Cup plant in Fort Smith and facilities in Fordyce, Gurdon and Hope. The companies spend $191 million per year on wages and benefits for workers at the Arkansas locations, King said.

The Crossett mill sits along a stretch of Arkansas 82, known locally as First Avenue. A parallel rail line separates the complex and its smokestacks from the heart of town, but the mill looms over a nearby grid of homes, businesses, schools and public buildings. More than a dozen residential streets spill onto First Avenue.

The mill employs about 1,200 people from Crossett, other Arkansas towns and Louisiana.

Crossett's paper mill is undergoing a $60 million expansion that will allow it to produce more toilet paper, King said. The project will create new robotic "converting lines," which cut down large "parent rolls" produced by the mill's four tissue-making machines into a size that can be packaged and sold in retail stores.

The machines are scheduled to go online by October.

Metro on 03/25/2018

Print Headline: In Crossett, company-town roots especially deep

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