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Firm installing itself at Little Rock port, plans 500 jobs

by Noel Oman | October 27, 2021 at 7:11 a.m.
Trex CEO Bryan Fairbanks sits among local officials including Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. and Governor Hutchinson during an announcement of a new factory that will be built in the Port of Little Rock on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. The new factory will bring 500 jobs and an estimated $400 million over the next five years in the development of the new Arkansas site, according to a press release. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/1027port/ (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Trex Co. Inc. a leading maker of decking, railing and outdoor items from recycled materials, intends to build a manufacturing plant at the Port of Little Rock, bringing with it more than 500 jobs, a nearly $400 million investment and an environmentally friendly reputation.

Gallery: Port Authority Press Conference

"We're extremely excited to be announcing Trex's investment in Little Rock, Arkansas," Bryan Fairbanks, Trex president and chief executive officer since April 2020, said at an announcement at the port. "The team has welcomed us with open arms. We couldn't be more excited about the opportunity as we move forward."

Construction and equipping the company's third and largest plant in the United States on the 289-acre site will be financed in part by $350 million in general revenue bonds issued by the city. The bonds are paid back by the company for which they were issued.

The state also has pledged a reported $12 million in road and rail improvements within the port to accommodate the new plant, according to Bryan Day, the port's top executive. They include eliminating one road and extending another, and the addition of a rail spur to serve the plant. State officials didn't immediately confirm the amount Tuesday.

The plant, once it is fully operational, is expected to generate 1,500 to 2,000 rail cars a year for the port, which charges on average $325 per rail car switch, or up to an additional $650,000 in annual revenue, Day said.

In a prepared statement, he said an undisclosed minimum annual number of rail cars will be guaranteed by Trex for the next 20 years.

Rail, as well as barge traffic, have fallen sharply at the port this year. The Trex rail revenue won't come soon enough to forestall resulting cuts in the port's 2022 budget, Day said.

The port already had invested more than $4 million in the land its board voted to give Trex at a special meeting Tuesday morning. The land included 153 acres that the port acquired from the Quapaw Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma in two separate transactions for a total of $3.1 million.

Deals for some of the parcels didn't close until last week, according to Day. The transactions were not posted on the assessor's website Tuesday.

The city had committed $10 million to the port for land acquisition under a sales tax initiative that expires in December. The city has committed an additional $10 million to the port for land, including $5 million that it gave to the port earlier this month.

"Today marks the culmination of the vision of Little Rock residents to expand our port to expand job opportunities in Central Arkansas," Day said. "Strategic investment and creative partnerships continue to be a recipe for success. We are thrilled to welcome Trex to Little Rock and appreciate their investment and commitment."

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. credited the city's strengths with helping attract Trex.

"This regional manufacturing and distribution center will benefit greatly from our amazing assets – those being river, road, rail and air all intersecting in one place," he said. "And our residents will benefit from the addition of hundreds of high-wage jobs added to the economy."

At a special meeting Tuesday afternoon, the city Board of Directors ratified conveyance of the land to Trex, the bond issue as well as Trex Co.'s participation in a state tax credit program.

Trex products are available in Little Rock at Lowe's and Home Depot home improvement stores. There are nine of the stores within 25 miles of the port.

Pulaski County's County Judge Barry Hyde can vouch for that. He said he built a new backyard deck at his home with Trex materials, not knowing that Trex was coming to Little Rock.

"We discovered them before they discovered us," he said. "It's a great product."

The company is already advertising jobs for the plant even though construction isn't expected to begin until early 2022, and production won't start until 2024.

Still, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and a lineup of other officials at the port Tuesday morning extolled the announcement that was, in the words of the governor, "a $400 million day for Arkansas."

The decision by Trex officials to locate in Little Rock and not other places they considered was a testament to the state's workforce, geographic location, the port facilities and the opportunity that "our outdoor living brings to an outdoor company," Hutchinson said. "I think it is a very good fit for Arkansas."

The Winchester, Va.,-based business claims to be the world's largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking and railing. It formed about 30 years ago to design outdoor products that would be easy to maintain.

A key to the company's success has been "the ability to use recycled materials," Fairbanks said.

Today, he said, 95% of the content of our deck products are recycled plastic and wood, which will remain key as the company moves forward in the "green economy."

To underscore the company's environmental bona fides, the governor cited statistics showing that a 500-square-foot deck made of Trex products contains the equivalent of 140,000 recycled plastic bags. Given that Americans use on average one plastic bag per day every day of the year, that deck amounts to the plastic contributions from 383 people, he said.

The deal took "well more than a year" to put together, according to Jay Chesshir, president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Conversations actually began in September 2020 when a site selection consultant team from Global Location Strategies that Trex executives had enlisted to help them found a place to build a new plant reached out to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, an arm of the state Commerce Department.

The team of Sarah White and Tess Fay filed a request for information without identifying the company, saying only, among other things, the level of employment the investment was expected to bring, according to Katherine Holmstrom, then a senior project manager at the commission and now an executive with Entergy Arkansas.

Chesshir, in his remarks, cited Holmstrom as one of the unsung figures in landing a major job producer whose work started long before he and other top executives even know about it.

A virtual site visit occurred in December. A limited site visit took place in January with the governor being brought in at that point. The final site visit by company executives was made in March, Holmstrom said.

For that visit, some Trex products, including a deck were used.

"We put the deck on the potential site and staged it with Trex Adirondack chairs," Holmstrom said. "We also staged the chairs during various points of their visit."

The same deck used then was used as the stage for Hutchinson and other dignitaries for Tuesday's announcement. The chairs also were present.

Information for this article was contributed by Joseph Flaherty of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Trex CEO Bryan Fairbanks, left, talks with Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. before the start of an announcement that Trex Co., Inc. A maker of Decking, railing, and outdoor items made from recycled materials, plans to build a factory in the Port of Little Rock on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. The new factory will bring 500 jobs to the area over the next five years. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/1027port/

(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Trex CEO Bryan Fairbanks, left, talks with Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. before the start of an announcement that Trex Co., Inc. A maker of Decking, railing, and outdoor items made from recycled materials, plans to build a factory in the Port of Little Rock on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. The new factory will bring 500 jobs to the area over the next five years. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/1027port/ (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
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