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International Paper to invest $300 million in Riverdale Mill

International Paper is investing $300 million in its Riverdale Mill in Selma to help grow its industrial packaging business.

The announcement was made Friday at the company’s headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I think it’s pretty exciting in terms of investment in the Riverdale Mill and what that means in terms of our position here in the community,” said Arthur McLean, communications manager of Riverdale Mill.

The investment in Dallas County’s largest employer will convert one of the mill’s two paper machines from producing uncoated freesheet paper to high quality whitetop linerboard and container board.

“Basically, what that means is it basically makes copy paper and printer paper — office paper,” McLean said. “What it will convert to is something called whitetop linerboard. That is used in consumer packaging. If you get a box that’s got the white exterior coating on it that can be printed on, that’s what we’re talking about.”

McLean said the product is new to Riverdale Mill, but it is already something other International Paper mills are producing.

“It’s a growing market,” McLean said. “You think about all of the things that come in those kinds of packaging, and it’s a growing market for us.”

The conversion, which McLean said will take around 12 months, is expected to be completed by the middle of 2019. The investment will add around 450,000 tons of annual capacity to Riverdale Mill.

“Our customers expect us to support their growth and this machine conversion will meet their needs,” said Tim Nicholls, International Paper’s senior vice president, in a statement. “Our industrial packaging business continues to focus on our customers in strategic channels including our box business, domestic and export containerboard and specialty grades.”

McLean said the product will be made into rolls, which will then be shipped off to box plants to be converted into different size boxes.

McLean said the machine conversion is still early in the planning phase, so there are currently no plans for additional employees.

“We don’t anticipate adding any positions at this point,” McLean said. “Of course, there will probably be some contractors and things like that doing the work, but as far as fulltime that’s not anticipated at this point.”

Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority, said the investment is huge news for Selma and Dallas County.

“It’s very positive for the community because you don’t make that kind of investment and be thinking about pulling out,” Vardaman said. “The paper they’re going into … that market is good. It’s a growing market.”

Vardaman said he has seen some large capital investments over the years, but $300 million is unlike any other.

“It says they’ve got confidence in the community and everything or they wouldn’t make that investment here. They’d make it somewhere else,” Vardaman said. “I think it’s recognizing the market they’re in is more of a shrinking market, and they need to be in another market. They made the decision to do it, and there’s nothing but positives all the way around.”

Riverdale Mill employees around 750 employees and celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.