DALLAS COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - A major investment by International Paper is securing hundreds of jobs in Dallas County.
The company is pumping $300 million into the Riverdale Mill to expand its industrial packaging operation.
The movement to "go green" has had many in Dallas County wondering what it would mean for the future of the mill.
The massive facility outside of Selma is the county's largest employer with more than 750 workers and it makes hundreds of thousands of tons of copy paper. But in a push by many offices to use less paper, it's been a declining market.
"With a paperless society, that's been going down in usage. It's long been our concern that someday we would have a problem, possibly a shutdown," said Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority.
A very big decision was made by International Paper to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convert one of the mill's paper machines from producing uncoated free sheet to making high-quality white top linerboard.
"If you think about copy paper, that's what uncoated free sheet is. That's been a market that's been strategically declining. So we're going to go to a white top linerboard," said Plant Manager Jim Bruce. "Think of a cardboard box that has white surface for printing. A lot of times, you'll ship in the same box that you're also advertising and displaying in."
The Department of Commerce says the major changes at the Riverdale Mill add more momentum to a significant growth spurt for Alabama's forest products industry. The surge has brought a significant amount of new capital investment and jobs to the state, making it a key economic driver.
Last year, the sector recorded projects involving $1.2 billion in new investment and more than 1,000 anticipated new jobs, according to the Alabama Forestry Association and the 2016 New and Expanding Industry Report issued by the Alabama Department of Commerce.
"International Paper's investment, along with other significant projects announced in recent months, indicates that the sector is sustaining its growth arc through late 2017," the department said.
Vardaman said the announcement was great economic news for the region.
"We have solidified that mill here. It's a tremendous company and this area couldn't afford to lose it," he added.
The changes at the Riverdale Mill will be finished by mid-2019.
"It takes us out of a market that's in strategic decline and secures those jobs because it puts us into a business that's growing. It's job security," Bruce said.
The mill will remain a significant supplier of copy paper as they make the conversion of one of their machines to white top linerboard.
Governor Kay Ivey tweeted about the mill saying: "Proud to announce International Paper will invest $300 million to grow its international packaging business at the Riverdale Mill in Selma."