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Last fall, Shandong Sun Paper said it is going to build a new USD 1.3 billion pulp and paper mill in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. In 2014, Shandong Tranlin Paper Company said it was going to build a USD 2 billion papermill in Chesterfield, Virginia, based on wheat straw as a raw material. The best we can determine, these companies are not related. Yet, there are remarkably similar peculiarities to these two projects.

We first reported on the Virginia project, as I said, in 2014, with an article headlined "Paper company says it will invest $2 billion." This story left us curious. Why would you build a mill based on wheat straw in Virginia? According to statista.com, Virginia doesn't even make the top ten wheat producing states. Oklahoma is likely the nearest state in the top ten, and it is at least 1,200 miles away. Perhaps Tranlin has finally looked at a map of the US, for our latest report on this project (26 Aug 16) indicates little progress. Apparently, they have not even bought the land yet.

So then we come back to Shandong Sun Paper and their project in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. By my recollection, the last time a new wood-based virgin fiber pulp mill was successfully permitted in the United States was the Alabama River Pulp Mill in 1989 (I had a minor role in this mill, remember it well). That is twenty-seven years ago. Since then, various environmental groups have successfully blocked anyone's attempts to even think about a new pulp mill in this country. Back in July, we reported that this project has been delayed more than six months. Perhaps they should switch to wheat straw, it is less than a couple hundred miles to Oklahoma from Arkadelphia.

If this was not enough, now we have this story from the 22 Aug 16 "Arkansas Business" which tells us the serendipitous way the Arkansas project came about:

"Mark Hamer didn't realize serendipity was on the breakfast menu at the Ross Bridge Resort on Aug. 27, 2010.

"Two months into his new job as director of business development in Asia for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Hamer was looking to mingle with prospects at the four-day Southern Governors' Association meeting in Hoover, Alabama.

"That's when he noticed a Chinese gentleman and a young lady seated at a large table and strode over to ask if he could join them. With Hamer making it a party of three, the morning meal was about to transform into a momentous occasion.

"Hamer discovered that his dining companions were Hongxin Li, chairman of Shandong Sun Paper Industry JSC Ltd., and his daughter, Lina Li. The industrial recruiter looking to make new commercial friendships had just sat down in very good company..."

Well, maybe it happened that way, who knows? I certainly am not in a position to verify or refute the story. All I can say is, I find the story peculiar and am puzzled as to why Arkansas Business published it.

For the moment, being charitable, both projects seem to be progressing slowly. We'll keep you informed. In the meantime, if you have any information on either of these two projects that might shed some light on their long term prospects, I'll accept your confidential emails: jthompson@taii.com.

Jim Thompson is Executive Editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at jthompson@taii.com.
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