Georgia-Pacific is a name often seen in lumber yards, public restrooms and down the tissue aisle of the grocery store. The company owns over 200 locations throughout the United States and is one of the world's largest manufacturers of tissue, pulp, paper, packaging, building products and related chemicals.
Nestled near the Arkansas River in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Georgia-Pacific is home to approximately 425 employees. The factory originated as a Dixie Cup factory in 1907. The disposable cups were developed to decrease the spread of disease. When Georgia-Pacific bought the Dixie company, the Fort Smith location continued producing the brand.
Now the Fort Smith location focuses on developing, printing, sorting and packaging paper bowls and plates. It's one of three sites in the United States that produces these products for Georgia-Pacific. Additionally, it is one of six locations in Arkansas.
Throughout the years, the company has vowed to "move with the times," and continues to implement new technology and practices to ensure its success as a community provider.
Fort Smith's Georgia-Pacific relies on recruiting talented individuals. The company recently shared their desire to partner with an educational institution that shares their values and goals.
"We are more than a packaging facility that makes plates and bowls. We are always striving to improve our business and provide more opportunities for present and future employees. We are always working on reaching outside of our footprint to develop more relationships with others in our community," explained Jordan Kenworthy, environmental manager.
Georgia-Pacific recently announced they are providing $10,000 in scholarship funds to the Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus in hopes of continuing to encourage local talent.
They believe in providing job training with a purpose and found that in the ATU-Ozark campus associate degree programs in automation technology and logistics management. Both programs, which are among the 29 programs offered at the campus, prepare students to transition into careers with companies like Georgia-Pacific.
The Automation Technology program teaches integrated skills that can be applied in a variety of job contexts to include green energy technology, electronics, medical, manufacturing and production.
The Logistics Management program is comprised of the fundamentals of supply chain management including procurement, issues in executing global supply chains, logistics, manufacturing, warehousing and transportation. It also includes business management, project management, business communications, economics of supply and demand, computer fundamentals and data management skills. A bonus feature is that the program is offered fully online.
“If we can grow local talent, then we are helping develop people who are going to stay in our communities. If we can provide an opportunity that is fulfilling for local candidates, then that is the route we want to go," shared Kenworthy.
"We help out folks in need, but we also look to lend folks the opportunity. We want to extend an invitation to be locally employed if that's what you desire. So then we come and get you a jumpstart in our industry," added Pat Sterner, Georgia-Pacific plant director.
Much of Fort Smith's factory involves variations of Logistics and Automation. From moving inventory from one side of the building to the other or programming the multitude of machines that the company relies on to produce thousands of plates and cups daily.
"Georgia-Pacific recognizes the importance of being able to recruit students from local higher education institutions that are dedicated to training relevant skills such as automation and logistics. They value building relationships with local educators, which is vital in growing a quality workforce,” said Justin Smith, chief business and community outreach officer at Arkansas Tech-Ozark Campus.
To be successful in the future, Georgia-Pacific must have employees who not only understand how to read and operate the machines but also possess a passion for their work.
"Our automation positions require people to be involved with robotics and automation. Many of the machines we order do not come to us programmed for what we need. We rely on people who can program those machines to fit what we need those machines to accomplish," said Kenworthy. "If we can get people to get excited about automation and the upcoming technology, then that is just going to make us better."
Georgia-Pacific believes the relationship with ATU-Ozark will continue to grow throughout the years.
"We see the potential in building relationships with local people who will find more fulfillment in their job with us if they see the value of what we do in their communities," added Kenworthy. "[Our employees] are local, they are family, and they are able to find an awesome opportunity here. We believe our partnership with ATU-Ozark will be mutually beneficial not only for Georgia-Pacific and ATU-Ozark but our communities as well."
Georgia-Pacific and the Ozark Campus are also developing a plan for the company to meet students and teach them about the career opportunities at Georgia-Pacific while forming meaningful relationships with members of the River Valley community.
"We want to continue our community enrichment goals to continue making our company better, our facility better and Fort Smith better. We want to see Fort Smith thrive through talent, education and community outreach," concluded Kenworthy. "Sustainability to us means listening to where the market is going and constantly improving to keep us on track."
ATU-Ozark will be a driving force in helping Georgia-Pacific in their efforts to serve the Fort Smith and Arkansas River Valley communities as well as the world with quality products.
The partnership truly supports the mission statement of ATU, which is: Arkansas Tech University is dedicated to student success, access, and excellence as a responsive campus community providing opportunities for progressive intellectual development and civic engagement. Embracing and expanding upon its technological traditions, Tech inspires and empowers members of the community to achieve their goals while striving for the betterment of Arkansas, the nation, and the world.
Quality products are a result of quality programming, and it all begins with a quality education.
by Carrie Harris Phillips and Barbara Jenkins for the Tech Action, Spring 2020