The white building with three gray/blue doors just west of the Bellemont exit off Interstate 40 — left — is the proposed location for the new Savannah Pacific beam and finger-joint plant and sawmill that promises to bring 175 jobs to the area. The company specializes in using small diameter wood, will have other business and a biomass energy plant with it so that nothing gets unused. Forest officials are delighted to have found a useful way to achieve substantial forest thinning over several years to come.
Savannah Pacific, an Oregon-based wood products company specializing in “glue-lam” beam and finger-joint board manufacturing, has been given the go-ahead to build a plant using an existing warehouse located on what used to be Camp Navajo property.
The company had been looking at building a plant in Arizona a couple of years ago and, according to GFEC’s Jeremy Christopher, was talking with APS in 2003 about biomass energy possibilities within the state. APS then referred them to GFEC and GFFP because of northern Arizona’s interest in forest thinning and its abundance of proper biomass material. After meetings with those entities, the idea blossomed into building an entire wood products campus with the plant and a sawmill as its hub.
“We’re all anxious, not only from a fire prevention perspective, but we’re also looking for an opportunity to have jobs in the area, and this provides that opportunity,” says Coconino County District 3 Supervisor Matt Ryan.
The primary benefits of the company’s arrival are twofold — jobs and forest thinning.
Reports indicate the plant should bring in 100 direct jobs and another 75 indirect jobs, the direct of which will provide upwards of a $30 million economic impact to the surrounding communities in the plant’s first year of operation. Christopher says the impact will probably be even higher.
“When you add indirect and induced as well, it’s approaching $40 million in year one,” Christopher stated.
The 100 jobs available at the plant will be mostly labor/manufacturing oriented and though applications aren’t being accepted just yet, Savannah Pacific CEO Jeff Garver does know what type of personnel the plant will be looking for.
“We’ll be looking for people that have some computer background,” Garver said, adding that the level of computer familiarity need not be great, “and high school level math, reading, and writing ability.”
Garver also said that a strong work ethic will be sought and that because of the normal level of danger involved sawmill operations, Savannah Pacific will be a “no tolerance” workplace. Most of the positions will be paid hourly at a rate of about $10 per hour and as high as $15-plus per hour for higher-skill specialty jobs. Benefit packages will be provided as well.
In addition to providing a substantial economic stimulus to the community, the plant will also play a significant role in forest health.
Because of the types of products Savannah Pacific manufactures, they will primarily be using small diameter wood only — trees measuring up to 16 inches across — and are approved to use trees within a 75-mile radius around the facility. That includes major portions of the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests, and select portions of the Prescott and Tonto National Forests.
The Forest Service and the GFFP — a partnership of local entities formed after the 1996 fire season whose primary goals are forest restoration and community protection — are delighted and welcome the new company because of its use of small trees. Proper forest restoration and thinning techniques dictate that the larger, older trees should be left standing, while most of the smaller, younger trees are marked for removal. However, since there is little to no market for small diameter timber, it has been nearly impossible for the Forest Service to contract out thinning projects and subsequently sell the leftover material — save for a scant number of local operations like Perkins Timber Harvesting.
The plant boasts a capacity of 25 million board-feet per year. So, what kind of chunk does that take out of the amount of small wood the Forest Service wants to clear? Unfortunately, the answers are harder to come by than one might think. Silviculturist for the Williams and Tusayan Ranger Districts Mark Herron says at this point in the south Kaibab region, about 80 million board-feet of small diameter wood is ready to go, and that the Kaibab can sustain 15 million board-feet annually. Coconino Forest officials have reported they can provide about the same — 15 million board-feet per year. With that, the plant should be able to continue operations indefinitely.
“This is not a reactionary business because of drought,” Garver emphasized. “This is something we want to be indefinite.”
The good news doesn’t stop there, however. Savannah Pacific’s beam and finger-joint manufacturing is only one of many industries involved in the project. As stated previously, Garver and those he talked with came up with the idea of an entire campus of wood products industries. They will feature local firewood manufacturer Total Timber, Forest Energy — a manufacturer of pellets for wood-burning stoves, and an electric power-producing biomass plant jointly owned by APS and Savannah Pacific, all clustered in the same location. These other industries are where the 75 indirect jobs are coming from.
For its main products, Savannah Pacific will use trees 8-16 inches in diameter. Wood four-eight inches in diameter will go to Total Timber for firewood, and wood smaller than four inches will go to the pellet company. Leftover unusable materials will be burned in the biomass plant, which is capable of producing three megawatts of electricity — enough to power about 3,000 homes.
“Anything that comes through the plant will be used in some fashion,” Garver announced.
After having been endorsed by city, county, state, and environmental officials, Savannah Pacific must now secure the necessary construction funding, which Garver says should come through very soon.
The company wants no special treatment from the community, and is only receiving the same incentives other businesses get.
“When Savannah Pacific approached the (GFEC), they indicated that they did not want any out of the ordinary incentives other than those to which they were entitled,” Christopher states.
Those incentives include being designated as a Coconino County enterprise zone — allowing for a property tax abatement of up to five years if a manufacturing company makes a $1 million or more capital investment. After that, provided the company in question pays employees at least $7.50 per hour, the company is eligible for a $3,000 per-employee tax credit over the course of three years.