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The Arkansas Economic Development Commission approved a $750,000 bond guaranty Thursday for a group of Texas investors to reopen a mill in Magnolia to produce cross-laminated timber.

The commission approved the bond for Texas CLT LLC, an investor group in Nacogdoches.

The project is expected to create about 60 jobs over the first two years, paying an average salary of about $35,000, Brant Cobb, chief operating officer of Texas CLT, said in a telephone interview.

Cross-laminated timber, or CLT, involves gluing together layers of boards, such as two-by-fours, at 90-degree angles and pressing them into a large panel of wood of up to 10 feet by 40 feet and up to a foot thick. Such products have been approved for construction of buildings that are up to 18 stories tall, Cobb said.

"There is an emerging industry where people use these [cross-laminated timber] panels in buildings," said Bryan Scoggins, director for business finance at the commission.

A residence hall on the campus of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is being built using the technology, said Mike Preston, executive director of the commission.

"Basically using wood where before you would have used steel or concrete," Preston said.

The wood technology is greener, sturdier and more energy efficient, Scoggins said.

Texas CLT researched the project for more than a year and was aware of the plant in Magnolia, Scoggins said. The company knew it would have access to some experienced workers, plus Magnolia is near the raw material sources, Scoggins said.

Cobb expects to be operating in January.

"Obviously the work and hiring of people will start much sooner than that," said Cobb, who plans to move to Magnolia. "We expect to be over there and on the ground in October and hiring our first people in November."

Texas CLT will hire 40 or more workers in the beginning and get up to 60 fairly soon, Cobb said.

Cobb, who anticipates investing $3 million initially but much more over the next three years, is a zealous salesman for the cross-laminated timber technology.

Market conditions are excellent for laminated beams, Cobb said.

"The products we'll be making will replace concrete and steel construction materials," Cobb said. "The environmental impact we will have by replacing concrete and steel will be very significant."

A cubic foot of concrete releases 20 pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A cubic foot of steel releases over 30 pounds of greenhouse gases.

"If you build it with wood, it removes 17 pounds per cubic foot of greenhouse gases," Cobb said. "There's nothing magical about that. That is just the nature of concrete, steel and wood."

The laminated wooden beams are less expensive than the other building products, Cobb said.

Cobb gave the example of a Candlewood Suites hotel that was built with steel and another one built with wood. The one made with laminated beams was 31 percent cheaper than the one constructed with steel, he said.

Southwest Arkansas also has an abundance of timber, Cobb said. As recently as two years ago, Arkansas had a surplus of 360 million tons of standing timber that was growing by 10 million tons a year.

There was only one cross-laminated timber manufacturer in the country two years ago. Now there are two more before the Magnolia plant goes online.

"Our whole focus is to provide building materials that clean up the environment," Cobb said. "That is our underlying mission, to reverse the trend."

Since the Magnolia building was built in the 1960s, a series of owners have all produced laminated beams, Cobb said.

"We're just going to broaden the market and offer a broader spectrum of laminated beams," Cobb said.

Business on 09/14/2018

Print Headline: Bond OK'd to reopen Magnolia mill

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