At this writing, the great Arkansas River flood of 2019 is moving toward the Mississippi, leaving major property damage but blessedly few human casualties in its wake.
With all eyes turned to the river — Fort Smith to Dardanelle to Conway to Little Rock to Pine Bluff to Pendleton — south Arkansas on Tuesday received a bolt from the blue: Georgia-Pacific, the beating heart of Crossett, will be closing its bleached board operations, eliminating 555 jobs in a town of fewer than 5,000. G-P simultaneously delivered a smaller blow to Hope, but the 100 workers who will lose their jobs at the particleboard plant there will be just as unemployed.
This is an Opinion
In its way, a corporate decision that devastates a town feels almost like a natural disaster. The news came suddenly, like a tornado that flattened one side of the G-P community while sparing the 500 workers at the tissue and paper towel plant next door. If anyone locally had detected a warning siren, we certainly hadn’t heard it in Little Rock.
The effect, on the other hand, will be more like a flood — slow-motion devastation that may be mitigated but can’t be stopped. The shutdown won’t happen until October, so employees of the bleached board operation will have a few months to think and prepare. But there is no way the local economy can absorb and make whole so many workers. And, of course, stripping tens of millions of payroll dollars from the local community will have a ripple effect, lapping at the doors of every business in and around Crossett.
Here’s another way Georgia-Pacific’s decision feels like a natural disaster: There was no way to prevent it. Businesses, like water, seek a sustainable level. All Crossett can do is brace for impact, then wait to pick up the pieces — like so many others in our state right now.