WICKLIFFE -- News that Phoenix Paper will invest an additional $200 million in the paper mill operation it purchased one year ago generated applause Friday heard from the Ballard County seat to the Kentucky capitol.
Speaking to an audience of approximately 70 community leaders, local officials and elected representatives at city hall, Gov. Matt Bevin announced the investment via telephone from Frankfort that is expected to bring with it 150 additional jobs.
"Phoenix Paper has stepped up, as you all know, in the last couple of years," Bevin said. "First in considering the possibility of buying the old Verso plant, then purchasing it and reactivating it.
"Phoenix is committing another $200 million, financed by their partners, The Bank of China, to build a brand new, green field facility on the site of the existing property ... a brand new recycling mill," Bevin said. "It is expected it will take 18 months for them to complete it and that there will be as many as 150 people that will work just for this new facility being built."
With an estimated 700,000-ton annual capacity, the new facility will take post-consumer cardboard and mixed paper from various regional locations. Following cleaning and screening of the raw material, the still will be formed and dried into industrial pulp and finished paper and shipped to China.
Phoenix Paper is owned by Shanying International, a China-based global pulp and paper company. It currently employs 230 at the Wickliffe plant, which began producing bleached hardwood pulp two months ago.
"We're excited by the fact that this commitment is a compliment of the work that has already been done," Bevin said. "This is a high compliment to the caliber of people in western Kentucky."
Phoenix Paper's commitment to west Kentucky is an example of cooperation at the "sub-national" level, according to the governor.
"This really is about cooperation, about not waiting until all things are perfectly resolved (between the United States and China), but marching forward because this is how people will succeed," he said. "There is no state in America that is working harder at the sub-national level with China, and I can say that without question."
Ballard County Judge-Executive Todd Cooper praised the spirit of regionalism among officials throughout west Kentucky, and neighboring states.
"I just want to thank you so much for being here today," Cooper said. "I look around this room, this is what we've all been working for the last several years from an economic development standpoint, and from a regional perspective including Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee.
"It's bringing everybody to the table and saying 'let's work together.'"
Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless accompanied Cooper on an economic development trip to China in January as invited guests of Shanying International.
"Judge Cooper told me this week that six of the eight Purchase counties have contractors on site at the paper mill here in Wickliffe," Harless said. "That to me is a sign of why this is so important. It doesn't matter where this (plant) lands. It matters that we work together as a region to make sure our contractors, our citizens have opportunity when they do land."
Working together at the sub-national level is something that is talked about within the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, according to the mayor.
"We talk as cities, even if the nations might not be getting along, our cities can, and we choose to work together," Harless said.
"The same is true in economic development at the sub-national level. We can participate. We can help recruit businesses here and foster capital investment. He (Cooper) invited me to go to China with him because he understood, and the team at Phoenix Paper understood, this will take regional effort to do."