Winnfield native, Ray Daughtry, graduate of Winnfield Senior High School and Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Forestry, filled the Winnfield Rotary Club in on recent developments at the WestRock plant in Hodge at its meeting on November 8.
Ray is the Regional Procurement Manager for West Rock and has been guiding its new wood yard project at the Hodge mill for a little over a year. The Hodge mill was built in 1927 by Southern Bag & Paper and has continued operations in various forms ever since. The current wood yard was installed in 1968 or 1969 to process wood from logs to chips for use in the manufacture of cardboard liner. The process included debarking and sawing logs, and chipping them up, taking a huge amount of energy.
According to Daughtry, in 2009 the facility underwent a $150 million upgrade to process only pine logs with the capacity to take 450 trucks of logs a day. Over time, it became clear that the wood yard could not continue operations in the same manner but would have to be converted or shut down. West Rock decided to invest $100 million to build a new wood yard which can process all the wood fiber needed to keep paper production going all the time and will eventually produce 100% of the energy required to do so.
Ray said the plant currently produces 80% of its own power and sells energy to the Village of Hodge as well as treating the wastewater from the village. Once all phases of the new wood yard are completed, the plant will produce 100% of its own energy and have excess energy to sell to Hodge and others.
West Rock also practices sustainability by planting ten trees for every one harvested and using recycled paper in the fiber it produces for its cardboard liner. West Rock produces boxes for Amazon, Dominos, Pizza Hut, boxes for Chinese takeout, and microwaveable meals, among others. It has designed boxes for pizza companies which will contain the heat to keep the product hot until it is delivered to the consumer, as well as boxes with other features required by their clients.
West Rock is in the process of merging with another large wood processing company called Smurfit Capital with its global headquarters in Ireland and its US headquarters in Atlanta, GA. Smurfit has paper mills, recycling and box plants, and merchandising operations in 38 countries. The merger is currently being reviewed by the U. S. Department of Justice. Once complete, the new company will be more than twice the size of International Paper.