A Dansons USA executive says Hope’s proximity to raw materials, the company’s largest customer base, rail and interstate transportation — along with the hospitality of state and local officials — lured the wood pellet manufacturer to the city’s shuttered Georgia-Pacific plant.
The company last week announced plans to open a barbecue wood pellet mill and distribution center there this spring, creating 50-100 jobs over the next three years. The area lost 100 jobs when the G-P plant closed last summer.
Local officials said Dansons will be a medium-sized employer for Hope, which has weathered the pandemic well. The area hasn’t lost many jobs because most are “essential” manufacturing jobs, and its unemployment rate is lower than state and national averages, they said.
But they hope Dansons will continue to expand once it gets settled, and the company all but confirmed that will happen.
“This mill will be the crown jewel of our wood pellet production and distribution operation,” Dansons President Jeff Thiessen told Arkansas Business in an email. “In its current state, with three pelleters and a 100,000-ton pellet capacity, it is already the largest barbecue pellet mill in the United States, and the infrastructure is in place to triple the size of the operation to nine pelleters and a 300,000-ton capacity.
“That said, this facility will give us the ability to meet demand for our growing business in a way that will allow it to expand as our company does. On the distribution level, the location is central to our largest customer base and allows us easier and more efficient shipping to the south/southeastern United States.”
Steve Harris, president of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corp., said Danson’s plans are important to the area.
“They're a great company, and we're proud to have them here in Hope,” Harris said. “They found a big, big facility with plenty of land and so they can — once they get established here — they can continue to grow, and so that's the other exciting thing about it.”
In addition to raw materials and customers in Texas and Louisiana, Harris said Dansons will have access to a community college that can provide jobs training if needed. The area already offers a “heavily manufacturing-intensive workforce,” he said.
On the distribution side, Hope Mayor Don Still said the company will have quick and convenient access to a rail spur plus Interstates 30 and 49. The new jobs could be filled by commuters within a 20- to 30-mile radius, he said.
“They're hoping to expand in Hope after they get here, so I hope it's going to be a growing company, and I know the city is going to support them all we can with whatever we can provide for them,” Still said.
The mayor said he was proud of the economic development team for filling the empty building, which Danson’s bought in August, so quickly. According to Harris, the purchase happened shortly after company executives flew into the Hope airport; had lunch with local and state officials who made presentations about state incentives and local resources; and toured the building.
“First and foremost, the warm welcome we received at the town, county and state levels made this instantly the most encouraging place we’ve ever done business in,” Thiessen said. “As a family-owned business, the personal touches that came from state leadership are very important to us as we very much value people and relationships. … The Dansons team, including my father and founder of the company Dan Thiessen, my brother and Chief Operating Officer Jordan Thiessen and John Utter, who leads our pellet mill operations, have nothing but glowing reviews about our experience.”
Thiessen said the company plans to be a good corporate citizen.
“We sincerely feel that part of our corporate responsibility is to give back to those in need. The cornerstone of the company’s identity is to honor God, who has provided these opportunities, to reinvest in those in need,” Thiessen said.
“No matter how much Dansons grows, we will always be a company built on, and grounded by, our faith, commitment to our partners and customers, and dedication to our family-oriented values. It’s with this in mind we are dedicated to sharing God’s blessings in the community, both locally and globally. We intend on sharing that impact with the community of Hope, Arkansas.”