Arkansas' biggest economic development project just got bigger.
Shandong Sun Paper Industry said Tuesday that it will pile an additional $500 million and 100 jobs into its planned Sun Bio Products plant in Clark County. The move will bring total investment to $1.8 billion and raise expected employment to 350 people.
The increased investment comes as executives change strategy for the plant, originally planned to produce dissolving pulp used to make rayon.
According to a statement, Sun Paper Chairman Li Hongxin decided the plant should produce linerboard, which is one of two types of paper that make up corrugated board. The change means "an increased use of raw materials," the company said, though it did not say by how much.
In a statement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the change "welcome news."
"Sun Paper's commitment to Arkansas is testimony to the quality of our state and of our workforce," the governor said. "Chairman Li's $1.8 billion investment is a terrific vote of confidence for Arkansas and more evidence of the economic progress we are making."
The plant, billed as one of the largest economic development projects in Arkansas history, was originally announced in April 2016. Estimated to cost between $1 billion and $1.3 billion to build, the plant would employ 250 people permanently and more than 2,000 over a two-and-a-half year construction period. Average salary for plant workers would be around $52,000.
When it began operation, the plant would process at least 400 truckloads of small timber per day, generating at least $28 million a year in income for owners of timberland in the area. The plant would also provide a new market for certain types of timber. In all, the plant would mean an economic impact of about $100 million per year in the timberlands of south Arkansas.
The plant will be built in the the Clark County Industrial Park, about five miles south of Arkadelphia near Gum Springs. Construction was set to begin by the end of last year, but a company spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company now aims to break ground this year.
The company said changing to a linerboard factory will result in a facility "even more friendly to air and water." Sun Paper said it is continuing to study emissions data but "is very pleased" with initial information.
Sun Paper is getting incentives from state and local governments. A company spokeswoman and a spokeswoman from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission said Sun Paper was sharing information about the additional investment with Clark County leaders on Tuesday.