A Norwegian company that produces food-ready packaging announced Tuesday it will create more than 100 new jobs and invest $70 million to build its first U.S. plant at the Port of Little Rock.
Elopak -- the ninth international firm to locate at the port -- said it will create jobs for engineers, printers, operators, logistics specialists and other support groups. The company will produce fiber-based cartons for liquid dairy, juices, plant-based products and liquid eggs.
The Little Rock port, which began operations 50 years ago, has become a magnet for international manufacturing and distribution companies, particularly since the pandemic. Elopak becomes joins companies from seven different countries at the port.
"This is our first converting plant in the USA and a landmark investment for our company," Chief Executive Officer Thomas Körmendi said in a statement announcing the Little Rock facility. "North America is a key building block for our future growth and we are very excited to expand our presence in the region."
The 300,000-square-foot plant at 6001 Zeuber Road will produce products for the company's U.S. market, which uses about 25% of the 14 billion products the company delivers globally, according to Reinard Dreesmann, vice president of operation in the Americas.
Elopak, which promotes sustainability and has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, operates in 40 countries and provides products in 70 nations. The company promotes its products as alternatives to plastic containers and operates manufacturing plants in Canada, Mexico and the Dominican Republic to serve the Americas region.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. noted the new company, along with the distribution and warehouse operations of Amazon, which employs about 3,000 Arkansans at the port, is helping promote Little Rock as a "distribution hub right here in the heart of America."
Little Rock's central location, community spirit and labor-force availability helped the city win the project, Dreesmann said, noting the company considered 25 locations in five states when beginning the search.
Elopak looked at expanding the existing regional factories but decided a new plant of at least 300,000 square feet was needed. "One thing that was important for us to think about was it had to be close to existing and new customers," he added. "At the same time, it could not be a competitor to our existing factories."
Little Rock offered a quick turnaround to install equipment and begin production. "The key thing for me was it was all about value," Dreesmann said at the announcement Tuesday. The advanced manufacturing facility will rely on high-end production processes. "We want to do as little manual labor as possible," he said.
Elopak will initially invest $44 million in the building and another $22 million in equipment and have 80 employees to begin production in 2025, though Dreesmann said a quick expansion could follow. "The end goal is there could be another $40 to $50 million invested in equipment," he added.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders joined company and local economic development officials at the port offices Tuesday to welcome the city's newest employer. "We are really looking forward to this project continuing to grow," she said.
Little Rock was a "strategic and natural choice," Lionel Ettedgui, the company's executive vice president for North America, said in a statement. "This location will provide us with green energy, solid access to suppliers, great transportation network, by road and by train, and will enable Elopak to better serve our customers in the Americas and accelerate growth in the region."
The facility will be built on the western edge of the port, occupying about 25 acres on Zeuber Road east of Fourche Bayou and near Amazon's distribution and warehouse hub.
Little Rock was evaluated based on the ability to support the company's sustainability goals, provide workforce training and an on-site rail spur. Port officials plan to extend rail as an incentive for the project.
The state is providing $1.25 million in direct support from the governor's quick action fund along with rebates and tax incentives based on equipment purchases and employing workers.
Little Rock's port has developed into an economic attraction for international companies since R&G Sloan, now George Fisher, of Switzerland located operations there in 1992. Officials estimate those international investors have injected about $500 million into projects that have about 2,000 employees.
"It really has been a long-term commitment building out this port," Arkansas Commerce Secretary Hugh McDonald said at Tuesday's event.
The city has invested about $30 million to enhance the port's infrastructure under Mayor Scott, who took office in January 2019.
Elopak is a public company that trades on the Oslo Stock Exchange in Norway. It has about 2,600 employees and operates its global business from headquarters in Spikkestad cq.