FRENCHTOWN – An Illinois investment company that bought an old container manufacturer west of Missoula hopes to turn the 3,200-acre site along the Clark Fork River into a magnet for green jobs.
Green Investment Group Inc. has hired about 30 people, including former employees, to staff the old Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. site in Frenchtown.
Green has purchased seven Smurfit-Stone sites in the U.S. and Canada, all with an eye on redeveloping them. It anticipates a $5 million initial investment and an overall investment of $40 million in the Frenchtown site.
Tom Dauenhauer, a former Smurfit employee who is Green’s site manager, said one of the first symbolic acts the new employees undertook was to remove hundreds of hardhats hanging along a mill fence.
“The hats represented lost jobs and negativity,” Dauenhauer said. “We took them down. In three months, we’ve accomplished a lot and I think in the next three months there could very well be some exciting announcements about new activity.”
The site has officially been renamed “M 2 Green,” and signs touting the opportunity for biofuels, bioenergy and wood-pellet operations are everywhere.
Smurfit sold the mill with all the equipment intact. Some members of the new crew are demolishing buildings to make them suitable for new tenants.
Any equipment that won’t fit into the long-term picture will be sold. Dauenhauer and his staff are working to create a website to market that equipment, as companies from across the world have already come calling.
“You can’t do anything fast,” Dauenhauer said. “If you want to do it right, yield the highest value, you have to take your time, document it, put it on the website and try to sell it.”
Other former Smurfit employees are happy to be back at the plant, too, even if it’s bound to look significantly different than in the days when they were producing linerboard for the packaging industry.
Aaron Anderson was laid off by Smurfit when the mill closed in early 2010 and was without work for more than a year before joining a crew of electricians brought back to the job site by Green.
Neal Marxer, a 40-year mill veteran, now works full time on environmental issues at the site and also shows prospective businesses around the grounds. He’s cautiously optimistic that Green will make a go of it in Frenchtown.
“It’s going to take time,” he said. “Look at the American economy, it’s really poor. The wood products industry is about dead. The economy needs to turn around and people will start investing.”
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