Local officials already have some ideas for helping the 655 workers who will lose their jobs when Georgia-Pacific closes one of its operations in Crossett and a plant in Hope in the coming months.
Both cities will be taking advantage of services offered by the Governor's Dislocated Worker Task Force that is supported by Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act funds. The task force has no specific plans yet but has reached out to both locations, according to spokeswoman Regina Moss.
Hope, with a population of almost 10,000, has more options than Crossett, which is half that size.
One is that the community and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission can market the plant G-P is vacating to another industrial user, said Steve Harris, president of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation.
That building is 400,000 SF, sits on 144 acres, has highway and rail access plus utilities. The rail spur is owned by Hope and recently got a $2 million rehab, Harris said. The facility has “all the things you’d need to manufacture,” he said.
Harris also thinks some of the 100 jobs that will be lost there could be absorbed by other area employers. The closure there will happen "over the next couple months," Georgia-Pacific said earlier in the week.
Harris said, “Obviously, it’s not good. One hundred manufacturing jobs is a pretty good blow for a community of our size, but we have a pretty diversified manufacturing base, approximately 2,400 total jobs in the manufacturing sector."
G-P was that area’s fourth-largest manufacturer. There has been a mill at its location in Hope since 1995, but Harris wasn’t sure when G-P came to own it.
The closing in Crossett, set for October, will have a worse impact because many more jobs (555) will be lost in a much smaller community, and G-P is the city’s and Ashley County’s largest employer.
Crossett was established in 1899 as a company town by Crossett Lumber Co. G-P bought Crossett Lumber in 1962, and it will continue making premium tissue and paper towel products in a neighboring plant that employs about 500.
“G-P is and still will be an integral part of the community,” said Mayor Scott McCormick, but closing the bleached board operation and laying off that many workers will hurt local businesses, including mom-and-pop shops, restaurants and auto dealers, he said.
Crossett has weathered major layoffs before, McCormick said.
“We’re resilient here in Crossett, and we’re gonna make it. We’re still gonna be here,” he said. “There’s some things that I can’t say right now, some things that are possibly going to happen in the future, and we’ll see how that works out, if they’ll be able to absorb some of the workers that are getting laid off.”
He also said the city had spoken to legislators about getting the Governor's Dislocated Worker Task Force to Crossett.
Moss, its spokeswoman, said the task force had worked with G-P at Crossett in the past.
What the task work does first is fact-gathering. It finds out what the needs are, the timeline for layoffs, how many people will be affected and if there is a trade-related reason for the company’s decision.
If there is a trade-related reason, additional Department of Labor resources may be available to the laid off workers, Moss said.
The task force will then hold workshops with speakers who talk about filing for unemployment, resume building and other forms of assistance available to them.
The task force also gives the laid-off employees information about training opportunities for “in-demand occupations” that vary based on area, budgeting, searching for jobs and starting a business. Moss said she didn’t know yet what the in-demand occupations are in Crossett and Hope.
Another goal is to organize a job fair so that some of the people affected may be hired elsewhere before they are out of work, Moss said.
“We try to make sure the people being affected by layoffs have access to all programs they may be eligible for,” she said, and the workforce serves an area “as long as we’re needed."
The Arkansas task force is also partnering with a similar entity in Louisiana because some of the Crossett workers who are affected live there.