While Georgia Pacific’s decision to close the communications paper division of its Port Hudson facility in mid-March will be a blow to the entire region, elected officials in Zachary and north Baton Rouge are particularly concerned.
Of the 650 local workers who will be laid off when the facility—and the wood yard, pulp mill and energy complex that support it—is shuttered later this year, at least 300 are estimated to live in Zachary. Though the plant does not pay property or direct sales taxes to the city, those workers spend money with Zachary stores, restaurants and small businesses.
“We’re going to feel the residual effect from this,” Mayor David Amrhein says. “I would guess this will probably cost us 15 to 20 homes per year.”
The Zachary School System will feel the effects more directly. Some $7.5 million a year in property tax revenue—roughly one-third of all the money generated for the system from property taxes—comes from Georgia Pacific.
Though the company will continue to own the facility and operate its consumer tissue and towel division there, there’s no guarantee it won’t sell off some of the excess land and equipment once the communications paper division is shut down.
“Down the line, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Superintendent Scott Devillier says.
Like the mayor, Devillier is concerned about the residual effect of the closure and what it will mean for the school community.
“When people lose jobs they move and if 30 of the guys who work out there leave, I may have 30 teachers leave along with their husbands,” he says. “I also don’t know how many kids we are talking about. If 50 or 100 people move out of Zachary, how many kids are they taking with them?
Devillier says he was heartened to learn earlier today that a $722,000 tax abatement under the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program approved by the Zachary School Board late last year for Georgia Pacific will be nullified by the state.
The incentive was granted retroactively on a $42 million investment the company made in 2017. Devillier says because the company is laying off so many employees the tax break will be nullified.
Officials with Louisiana Economic Development could not be reached to confirm that the ITEP award will be nullified.
Meanwhile, north Baton Rouge state Sen. Regina Barrow says her district will also be impacted.
“I know many of these families personally,” she says. “We need to make sure that government and the community come together to help everyone move forward.”