With no paper mill project on horizon, Clark County jobs group nixes need for air permit

With no paper mill operations showing interest in opening up shop anytime soon in Southwest Arkansas, Clark County officials are letting go of an air permit. | Shutterstock

Economic development officials in Clark County opted out of renewing an air permit gifted to the county after Sun Bio backed out of a major paper mill project


After discussing whether to renew a Title 5 air permit with the state’s Department of Energy & Environment, the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County says it has no need to keep the plant-specific permit.

The state agency awarded the permit in September 2019, when Sun Bio Material Co. was still on track to operate a major paper mill in Gum Springs. The Chinese company had reportedly invested some $2 million for the permit, which it would later gift to the EDCCC upon uprooting the paper mill project. Prior to Sun Bio, the county agency claimed no ownership in air permits.

A Title 5 air permit is the strictest of its kind and keeps manufacturers in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. In addition to the EDCCC, two companies that operate in Clark County hold title to such a permit: Veolia and Georgia-Pacific.

The state agency recommended that the EDCCC save time and funding by not renewing the air permit application, which would have been due by March 2024 and cost upwards to $100,000.

Shelley Short, CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, told members of the EDCCC on Tuesday that she was advised that keeping the air permit would only be beneficial if there were a prospective company matching Sun Bio’s project specifications. With no such companies on the radar, the board voted unanimously against re-applying for the air permit.

Job executive: Hostess sale to Smucker “a good thing”

In updating the EDCCC board on ongoing projects, Short said Hostess Brands, to date, has hired 130 of its 150 promised jobs at the Gum Springs bakery, which is expected to be in full operation by the end of 2023 despite the recent $5.6 billion acquisition by Smucker Co.

Last year, Hostess accepted a $2 million tax-funded incentives package to open a “bakery of the future” in Clark County. As the new owner of Hostess Brands, Smucker is contractually obligated to fulfill pre-existing agreements Hostess made, including with the EDCCC.

Based on recent conversations with Hostess executives, Short relayed that it’s “too soon” to know just how the acquisition will affect Hostess employees, but noted that “every indication” points to a “good opportunity for Clark County.” Short reported that employees at the local Hostess operation remain optimistic about the bakery’s future.

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