Pearl River Community College was a factor in lumber producer Idaho Forest Group’s decision to invest $120 million to set up a sawmill operation in Lumberton.
Lumberton’s first new sawmill since the 1920s will create some 135 jobs and that’s where PRCC’s workforce training comes into play.
“PRCC is one of the reasons we chose Lumberton,” said Julie Shiflett, Chief Financial Officer, Idaho Forest Group. “We look forward to an active partnership to be able to hire and train a skilled workforce. We want to be a good community partner.”
Idaho Forest will manufacture a variety of wood products at the mill, which is scheduled to start operations in late 2021, with full operational ramp-up by mid 2022. Site work has already begun.
Shiflett said the company’s goal is to hire local residents from the regional area.
“We are not planning to relocate Idaho to Lumberton,” she said. “Our target is to match the diversity of the community in our workforce.”
And PRCC stands ready to help Idaho Forest Group reach its goals.
“At the River, we train students to go to work, advance in work, and connect to long-term sustainable wage careers,” said Rebecca Brown, PRCC’s Dean of Workforce and Community Development.
“We are eager to partner with Idaho Forest Group to develop a highly-skilled technical workforce. The manufacturing industry is flourishing within the great Pine Belt area, and this investment will bring that growth to a site situated conveniently between the Poplarville and Hattiesburg campuses.”
PRCC already has relevant two-year associate degree programs in place to prepare technicians for positions in the highly-automated sawmill.
“We will work with IFG to provide skills assessments and then additional training to employees once they are hired,” said Brown.
When asked what the most important things that Idaho Forest Group is looking for in applicants, Jamie Major, Human Resources Director, said the company wants to draw a skilled employee base.
“We want employees with an appetite to learn, possess a strong work ethic and an ability to reason,” he said. “We envision our partnership with PRCC to help set the standard for hiring skilled trades and supplement training to sustain an adaptive and highly-skilled workforce.”
Major said jobs will be highly skilled. “Jobs will be technically focused such as electrical and industrial technicians, engineering, computer scientists and other technology centric roles that support efficient fiber conversion to high quality lumber,” he said.
He also said this mill will differ from their other existing mills.
“This will be a green-field mill with innovative technology including advanced equipment, software and automation,” said Major. “This sawmill will focus on safety and efficiency, as well as be highly automated.”
Shiflett said when fully operational the plant will see 75 to 100 log trucks a day and as many as 150 total trucks worth of traffic going through daily.
The company, based on Coeur d’Alene Idaho, currently operates six sawmills throughout Idaho and Montana and one Finger Joint mill, outputting more than 1 billion board feet of lumber per year. This marks the company’s first expansion into the South.
For information about the Lumberton IFG plant, go to Lumberton.IFG.com.