Georgia-Pacific surpassed its initial job creation goals in the multi-million dollar expansion of its Palatka mill, company representatives said at the Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday.
The $425 million expansion, called Project Purple, was expected to create up to 80 permanent jobs at the plant. As of Dec. 31, manager Michael Griffith told county commissioners Tuesday, the company has hired 104 people.
About 350 temporary contractor jobs were created as a result of the project, which is expected to peak at 550 this summer.
The investment included building a paper machine that uses through-air drying technology and adding associated converting equipment and infrastructure.
“This is the first investment in Putnam County for Georgia-Pacific with that technology,” Griffith said. “What it allows us to do is produce a premium towel that a lot of our competitors are currently making. So it improves our competitive position overall.”
County officials and business leaders are expecting the jobs gains to ripple to other sectors of the economy. Excluding construction contracting jobs, about 270 additional jobs will be created throughout the county as a result of the expansion, said Brian Bergen, vice president of economic development at the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
“When we say that, we mean primary jobs create secondary jobs,” he said. “Typically, they’re service industry support jobs like the ones going on at the plant.”
Project Purple was announced June 2017 following a veil of secrecy after commissioners at the time unanimously approved financial support exemptions if GP could meet a 70-job threshold.
Through the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program, the county pledged $30,000 to $50,000 per job for the five years following the project’s completion, according to county documents.
The actual figure paid to the company won’t be known until next budget year, when the county Property Appraiser’s Office includes those jobs on its tax rolls.
As of 2016, GP had more than 870 full-time employees at its Palatka mill, making up 60% of its jobs statewide, according to company data. Considered an anchor in the county economy, the mill provides a vital portion to the tax base, County Administrator Terry Suggs said.
“When I was preparing for my interviews for county (administrator in 2017), four entities in Putnam County made up the tax base,” he said. “You lose GP, you create a deficit you can’t afford. So it’s exciting to see them continue to invest here.”
Stacie Poppell, director of the county Office of Management and Budget, said the exemptions would be paid through the county’s economic development fund in the 2020-2021 budget year.