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Huge new Henderson, Kentucky paper mill saluted by governor, other celebs

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 Huge new Henderson, Kentucky paper mill saluted by governor, other celebs

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Chuck Stinnett Special to the Courier & Press HENDERSON, Ky. — An Australian billionaire, the daughter of President Kennedy and the governor of Kentucky walk into … no, not a bar. No, what Australian industrial magnate Anthony Pratt, U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy and Gov. Andy Beshear did Thursday afternoon was come to Henderson to walk into the sprawling new multi-million-dollar Pratt Paper complex that is just starting operations and will employ some 321 people. Beshear has called it the biggest jobs development in Western Kentucky in a quarter-century; his office on Thursday issued a news release declaring it “the largest investment in the region in more than 25 years.” When the project was announced in July 2021, the company said it would pay wages averaging $30 per hour; counting fringe benefits, it said total compensation would average $39 per hour (although one official on Thursday bumped that up to $40 per hour). “What a great day for Henderson, Kentucky.

What a great day for the commonwealth,” Beshear told a crowd of some 600 people — local public officials and business leaders as well as Pratt employees from here and around the country plus numerous customers and suppliers — at an hour-long, invitation-only ceremony inside the plant. The governor said the event celebrated the “doors opening for one of the most exciting industries in Kentucky history.” More:How did Henderson land Pratt Paper LLC's $400M plant that will employ 321 people by 2026? The Pratt complex on the Kentucky 425/South Bypass consists of two plants — a 650,000-square-foot corrugated box recycling mill and a 500,000-square-foot corrugator plant to produce corrugated sheet and boxes for major distributors and big box stores, using 100% recycled paper sourced from the new paper mill.

That 1.15 million square feet is the equivalent of 20 football fields under roof. The cost of the plant, including a huge paper machine and other equipment, has been reported by official sources (such as the governor’s office and the company itself) to represent an investment somewhere between $500 million and $700 million, and possibly beyond that. The complex will produce 100% recycled corrugated boxes for customers such as Amazon, the U.S.

Postal Service, Procter & Gamble, The Home Depot, Walmart and many others. Pratt boxes are used to ship products ranging from Kentucky-made Evan Williams bourbon as well as Tide detergent and Dominoes pizzas. “It’s the cleanest, greenest recycling paper mill on earth, and it’s in Henderson, Kentucky,” Beshear declared. “It’s 320 of the best-paying jobs in this commonwealth,” according to the governor, who said it will “provide opportunities for the kids and grandkids” of employees here. Celebrities in town Locals in attendance gushed at the opportunity to see Caroline Kennedy, described by Anthony Pratt as “American royalty.” Kennedy characterized the Pratt complex as “this incredible industry.” She declared that it would play a significant role in addressing climate change by producing 1,500 tons of recycled paper each day, eliminating the need to cut down 25,000 carbon-capturing trees daily. Kennedy recalled her father more than 60 years ago announcing to the world that America would land a man safely on the moon, in his words, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” “He knew that goal would bring out the best of us,” she said, explaining that the need to halt climate change will be just as hard, but necessary. Anthony Pratt, the global executive chairman of parent company Pratt Industries, recalled meeting former boxing champion Muhammad Ali and Ali’s wife, Lonnie, at their home in 1996.

Pratt said he anticipated just a short visit, but ended up spending six hours with the Alis, forging a deep friendship. Pratt recalled that in 2020, long after the boxer’s death, he called Lonnie Ali to say he was looking for a location for another paper recycling mill. She called Beshear, who scheduled a meeting at which he dressed in blue jeans, brought his dog — and, because the Covid pandemic was in high gear, wore a mask. Pratt said Beshear won him over. “He moved mountains to make it happen in Kentucky,” the company chairman said.

He praised what he called the governor’s “monomaniacal focus on economic development” and at one point declared: “He’s the great governor in these United States of America.” More:Pratt Paper recycling mill gets $125 million building permit in Henderson, Kentucky (Beshear, a Democrat who is running for re-election against Republican challenger Daniel Cameron, used his time at the podium as part celebration of the Pratt Paper complex, part stump speech.

He said his four years in office have seen “the most jobs every filled in our history,” the lowest monthly and annual unemployment rates in Kentucky’s history and the “three best years of economic development and job development we’ve ever seen.”) Former prime minister and Mrs. Muhammad Ali Kennedy, Beshear and Pratt weren’t the only luminaries to speak. Kevin Rudd, the Australian ambassador to the U.S.

and a two-time former Australian prime minister, spoke of his ties to the Bluegrass State. In 1865, he said, his great-great-grandfather “hopped a boat” from Kentucky on the Ohio River “and wound up in Sydney” in Australia. Rudd said he appreciates his ancestral Kentucky roots. “It’s good to be home,” Rudd declared. The U.S.

and Australia have deep ties — he called America “the longest, strongest and, I say, most intimate ally,” whether in warfare or international trade. “Every major bash you get into,” Rudd said of America, “the guy next to you in the foxhole usually is us.” “We’re Kentucky’s second-largest market in the world for Kentucky bourbon and whiskey,” he said, and declared that Anthony Pratt’s company is “Australia’s largest investor in the United States, and we are proud of you.” Lonnie Ali spoke of her and her late husband’s longtime friendship with Anthony Pratt, and her delight that Pratt Industries has located its recycling and box mill here. “When he said he wanted to put a paper mill in Henderson, I was over the moon” because of the good jobs it would create here, Ali said. Meanwhile, Anthony Pratt noted that because of their deep friendship, the company has named internal roads on the 200-acre plant site after both Muhammad and Lonnie Ali. The celebration For the event, Pratt Paper transformed a cavernous storage space intended for gigantic rolls of heavy brown recycled paper (known within the company as a “roll room”) into a sort of intimate concert space. Black drapery walled in the space.

Overhead, temporary theatrical lighting lit the raised stage, and banks of speakers hung from rafters. A lavish buffet had the trappings of a Bluegrass buffet that included Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, country ham biscuits, carved roast beef and other treats that could be washed down with sweet tea or Winchester, Kentucky-made Ale-8-One sodas. Before the ceremony, the event dripped with Kentucky hospitality.

Bluegrass/roots performer Dan Tyminski and his band entertained the assembled crowd with a series of down-home songs including “Man of Constant Sorrow” (a ballad purportedly sung by a man “born and bred” in “old Kentucky” and popularized by the 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” starring — wait for it — Kentucky-born George Clooney). Later, Tyminski and company performed an original piece, “Keep Your Eye on Kentucky,” and ultimately, a jaunty strings version of “My Old Kentucky Home.” Those, and all the subsequent presentations, were projected on an oversized video screen behind the main stage. About the company Pratt Paper is part of Pratt Industries, which describes itself as “America’s fifth-largest packaging company and the world’s largest, privately held 100% recycled paper and packaging company, with more than 10,000 highly-skilled, green-collar employees dedicated to the environment and sustainability.” Pratt Industries says it and Australia-based sister company Visy Industries together form the world’s largest privately-owned packaging, paper and recycling company. Pratt, based in Conyers, Georgia outside Atlanta, was founded in the U.S.

some 30 years ago and today has more than 70 manufacturing facilities in more than 25 states. Forbes reports that the privately held company took in revenues of $4 billion in 2022; it ranks Pratt as America’s 138th-largest private company. Just in the past week, Pratt announced it will invest $120 million in a new 125-employee corrugated box plant in Warner Robins, Georgia, as well as a $32-million, 200-employee plant in Dayton, Ohio.

In June, it opened a $253 million, 1.1-million-square-foot box factory in Cedar Hill, Texas. The Henderson complex is Pratt’s sixth 100%-recycled paper mill in the country, along with mills in Conyers, Georgia; New York City; Valparaiso, Indiana; Shreveport, Louisiana and Wapakoneta, Ohio.

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