Hunt to build new mill in LaSalle Parish

Hunt Forest Products, based in Ruston, has announced plans to construct a new $115 million sawmillin Urania, a LaSalle Parish community which is also the home of the Drax Biomass pellet manufacturing plant.

The new operation by Hunt will create 110 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of $45,000, plus benefits, according to a company statement issued last month. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards joined James D. Hunt, co-owner, director and CEO, in making the announcement. Construction was set to begin this month. Louisiana Economic Development estimates that the project will also result in another 307 new indirect jobs, for a total of over 400 new jobs in Central Louisiana.

The company said it will prioritize buying timber locally. The Urania sawmill will require up to 850,000 tons of wood per year, with plans to produce approximately 200 million board feet of lumber annually. Hunt already operates a hardwood lumber mill in LaSalle Parish at nearby Tullos, along with a Grant Parish plywood plant at Pollock.

The Hunt family is a long-time operator in the Louisiana timber industry. Among its early ventures was construction of a sawmill alongside the Rock Island railroad and U.S. Highway 167 about three miles north of Dodson, in Winn Parish, in the 1950s. That mill was expanded, and later sold to the Oregon-based Willamette Industries, which operated until the late 1990s, when it was acquired by the present owner, Weyerhaeuser Company, an internationally operating forest products company headuartered in southern Orgon.

Urania, site of the new Hunt Forest Products mill, was established almost 130 years ago by the late Henry Hardtner, one of the pioneers os sustainable forestry in the South. The community was home later to the Louisiana Pacific lumber company.

The new sawmill is a joint venture between Hunt Forest Products and Tolko Industrires Ltd., a 60-year old family-owned Canadian forestry company that produces a wide range of forest products for a world-wide market. Based in Vernon, British Columbia, Tolko will own a 50-percent share in the mill, which will be managed and operated by Hunt on a day-to-day basis.

"This is our first venture into the United States," said Tolko President and CEO Brad Thorlakson. 'We are thrilled to be in Louisiana with Hunt Forest Products, a family-owned company like ours, and one that has played a vital, reliable role in this state's forest industry for more than a century."

Following construction, the mill's scheduled beginning of operations in early 2019, Hunt Forest Products will initially employ 60 people, and ramp up to 110 at full capacity in succeeding years.