The Georgia-Pacific paper company, the largest private employer in Putnam County, announced on Friday it’s expanding its Palatka operation with a giant new machine.
The $400 million piece of equipment is expected to help the company add more than 120 jobs.
Company spokesman Terry Hadaway said the new drying machine — three stories high and half a city block wide — will allow the plant to expand production of the highest-end, most luxurious paper goods, including premium Brawny paper towels.
That’s as Georgia-Pacific celebrates 70 years of continuous operation in Palatka.
“This investment really puts us in a position of being able to look forward to, I hope, another 70 years right here in Palatka as a part of this community,” he said.
Hadaway said Georgia-Pacific is getting a county property tax break on the new machine for the first five years, as well as state tax incentives from Enterprise Florida based on the number of jobs created. He says the company qualifies for the state program because it's investing in a largely rural, economically depressed area.
A net gain of 80 jobs is expected after automation takes away some existing positions, he says.
The new machine is expected to be operational by late 2019 or early 2020. Existing employees will likely be trained to run it, and then their jobs will open up for new hires.
Hadaway said the plant has a hard time finding qualified employees, so it’s planning to partner with CareerSource Florida to create a training pipeline for young people who want to stay in the community.
He says someone starting in an entry-level job and working at the Palatka plant until retirement can have an average career salary close to $55,000. The mill employs 850 people.