Window firm to locate in Mountain Pine
MOUNTAIN PINE — Local son Morgan Wiles expected to be the third generation of his family to work at the Weyerhaeuser sawmill that was the mainstay of his hometown.
The sawmill left more than a decade ago, taking with it the city’s economic and social vitality, but Wiles, 33, and fellow Mountain Pine High graduate Shaun Keefe, 31, have returned bearing the future of their community.
In May, they purchased the 389-acre site that has sat idle since Weyerhaeuser shuttered its Mountain Pine veneer and plywood plant in 2006. On Wednesday, they announced part of the more than $20 million window manufacturing and retail concern they’ve built up over the last six years will be up and running on the site by April, bringing with it more than 100 new jobs and more than 200 in total when the company’s Hot Springs manufacturing operation transitions to Mountain Pine from its Bluestone Court location.
Wiles, the CEO and co-owner of Morfe Properties, the parent
company of window retailer WinChoice USA, window provider Morfe Manufacturing and bathroom remodeling contractor Bath Planet of Arkansas, said he and Keefe are hoping to parcel out the balance of the site to other industries.
“We’re committed to giving the land at the most affordable prices to anybody that will come here and bring at least 20 jobs,” he said after Wednesday’s ceremony. “We’ll do anything to provide jobs. The land value doesn’t matter to us.”
According to the deed transferring the property from Weyerhaeuser to Morfe + Gera Investments, the mill site was acquired for $550,000. The purchase included Mountain Pine’s City Hall. In addition to housing city offices, the 8,000-square-foot space is also home to some of Morfe’s 140 employees. Wiles said Wednesday that the city can use the building as long as it needs to.
Joined on the dais by Keefe, Prateek Gera, 24, a commercial real estate developer from Jonesboro who’s a partner in the venture and company CFO Matt Miller, 31, Wiles said it was a watershed day for the former mill town.
“Let’s stop calling this the old mill site from this day forward,” Wiles told the gathering that included Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Mountain Pine city officials, company employees and Mountain Pine school students. “Let’s start calling it Mountain Pine’s industrial park, and let’s start providing some jobs.”
A medical marijuana cultivation facility or dispensary is one of the ventures they’ve planned for the site. Wiles said Morfe Properties has applied for licenses to operate both. An Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration spokesman said last week that the state won’t release the names of the 224 dispensary applicants and 98 cultivation applicants until the applications are processed, an undertaking that includes confirming residency requirements and if the applicants are up to date on paying state taxes.
The deadline to apply for one of the five cultivation licenses and 32 dispensary licenses was Sept. 18.
The Mountain Pine City Council voted unanimously in May to an endorse a letter of support for Morfe Manufacturing with the understanding that a medical marijuana venture may be located on the mill site.
Wiles said Wednesday that the informal, door-to-door polling the company conducted in the community encountered no opposition to a medical marijuana enterprise, one he said has the potential to transform the socioeconomics of the city.
“Medical Marijuana will have zero impact on the industrial park,” Wiles said, explaining that the plans his company has for the site won’t be affected should the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission choose not to award the company a license. “It does have an impact on jobs. The average pay would be $15 to $20 an hour. That would allow people here to have completely different lives.”
The more than $3 million capital investment the company’s window division is bringing to Mountain Pine qualify it for sales tax rebates on building materials and machinery and equipment purchased for the new facility, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission said Wednesday.
The jobs the company is bringing qualify it for state tax credits through the Advantage Arkansas Program, the AEDC said. Wiles said the total incentive package is about $500,000. He said in addition to the dedicated workforce Mountain Pine offers, its high rate of low-to-moderate-income residents qualifies industries for similar incentives should they choose to locate in the city of fewer than 800.
Wiles said the presence of gas, electric, wastewater and water service already on site also recommends it, as well as the Arkansas Midland Railroad line that traverses the property.
He said the resentment left by Weyerhaeuser’s departure should be replaced by gratitude for the timber giant, which he said sold the property at a fraction of its worth.
“I know we’ve given Weyerhaeuser a hard time, but without them we wouldn’t be here,” he told the gathering. “They provided jobs in this area for decades, and they’ve helped us be able to provide jobs for the future. I appreciate their help.”
ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT: Shaun Keefe, left, and Morgan Wiles, co-owners of Morfe Properties, listen as Gov. Asa Hutchinson commends them Wednesday on bringing jobs back to their hometown of Mountain Pine.