By Markus Schmidt, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Tranlin Inc.’s $2 billion paper plant in Chesterfield County, scheduled to be fully operational in 2020, will start partial production as early as 2018, a company official said Thursday.
Unfinished paper will be shipped from China to be turned into finished products in Chesterfield, said John Stacey, senior vice president of marketing and product development.
“We want to get to Made in the U.S.A. as quickly as feasible,” he said. “One of the first steps is what we call converting, where we bring paper rolls from China and then shape those into toilet paper, facial tissue, paper towels and the various paper products that we make.”
The rolls will be imported from China because paper from the U.S. does not hold up to Tranlin’s environmental standards — domestic paper is made from trees.
The converting facility will be built on the plant’s 850-acre site along the James River near Willis Road as soon as all permits are obtained from the county administration, Stacey said.
In October, Shandong Tranlin Paper Co. Ltd., a leading pulp and paper company in China, broke ground on its first U.S. factory. It expects to employ about 2,000 people by 2020.
Stacey did not provide an estimate of the number of employees needed during the converting phase.
“It will create jobs in Chesterfield; we will be hiring people. But it’s not nearly as large as the pulping and milling; it will be less people,” Stacey said.
Once in full production, Tranlin will process such farm waste as leftover wheat and corn stalks into pulp. The process is considered more environmentally friendly than the conventional method, where fiber derived from trees is used to make paper products. The company plans to purchase the agricultural byproducts from area farmers after harvest.
The locally produced paper will then be processed in the converting facility; the factory also will produce an organic fertilizer that can be returned to farm fields.
Tranlin plans to establish a demonstration farm on the Chesterfield site as early as next year, including a greenhouse and some fields.
“That will be done before the converting. We already have some farmers that are growing on our land now,” Stacey said.
The company will hire a “vast majority, a very high percentage” of its workers from the Richmond-Chesterfield area, Stacey added, “because there is some wonderful talent and experience there.”
But some employees working in more specialized fields will be recruited from other parts of the U.S.; only a handful of staffers will be brought in from China, Stacey said, primarily in engineering.
“And many of the ones coming over to help us to get production going will return to China for the other operations over there. The idea is to get people in the United States,” he said.
Garrett Hart, Chesterfield’s economic development director, said Thursday that the county knew that operations at the paper mill would be phased, but the stages had not been previously defined.
“We are excited to get the project started — specifically the converting facility, which is not going to be discharging anything into the air, so it doesn’t need any air permits and we can move quicker on this,” Hart said.