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Bastrop Daily Enterprise - Bastrop, LA
  • Region's lone rice mill up and running after investment, expansion

  • The region's only rice mill shipped out its first wave of grain from Mer Rouge Sunday.
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  • The region's only rice mill shipped out its first wave of grain from Mer Rouge Sunday.
    After nearly 17 months of work to expand an existing rice dryer facility to a start-to-finish rice mill, the Kennedy Rice Mill now begins the operations of moving between 2-3 million hundredweights (cwts) of rice annually.
    Meryl Kennedy, director of sales and marketing for Kennedy, which operates two other facilities in Louisiana and Arkansas, said that production "is ready to go."
    Final details were being completed Friday on 10 rail cars worth of production that will be transported by train.
    The ability to move the product by train is due, in part, to a grant for rail spurs at the site.
    A multi-million dollar business investment, the mill expansion was announced in February 2011 by La. Gov. Bobby Jindal, who cited economic estimates of nearly $1.2 million in new, local tax revenue over the next decade and 85 new indirect jobs generated from the mill.
    Kennedy said 22 full time new jobs have been added and eight more could be added as the rate of production increases.
    She said while corn has gained a lot of attention lately because of its spiked market price, rice remains competitive.
    "These markets go up and down, it's nothing new," she said.
    While it's currently the busy harvesting time of the year for rice farmers, Kennedy said the mill will remain steady with production year-round.
    The new multi-story production building includes equipment that handles the cleaning, whitening and sorting of rice shipped from farmers into the site's elevators, before being then sold and sent to major food distributors, mostly domestic.
    Morehouse Parish Tax Assessor John Hill said while the mill's expansion is welcome news, it's unlikely to compensate for a parish that has lost more than a million dollars due to the paper mill's closing three years ago.
    "It won't make that big an impact, except for sales tax and some jobs, because the business received a 10-year tax exemption from the state's office of community investment," he said.
    But for Mer Rouge, residents and village representatives will benefit.
    "We are very excited and proud that our own residents put the investment in this here," said Mer Rouge Mayor McAdams.
    While Mer Rouge has "always been and continues to be the center of agriculture for the region," the mill's expansion only solidifies that, he said, including opening up more ag markets.
    Beyond increasing local sales taxes and visitors' traffic, the mill's expansion also enabled Mer Rouge to apply and gain a $950,000 state/federal grant to improve Boutz Lane, which connects to the mill location.
    "We hope to go to bid on that project in 30 to 60 days," McAdams said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Kay King, executive director of the Morehouse Economic Develop Corp., said the parish is often concentrating on recruiting outside businesses.
    "It's wonderful to see local people already here make a business investment in the community," King said.
    "Plus, this helps in efforts when we do bring visitors in. We can show them examples of what we've done and the potential that's here."

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