Yella Fella plans $5M investment to wood preserving mill, jobs

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A proven industry is bringing new jobs to the heart ofBrookhaven in less than 60 days, promising to paint the townyella.

Great Southern Wood Preserving Inc. is moving at break-neckspeed to open a pair of facilities in the heart of Brookhaven andhire 15 to 20 employees by Feb. 1 to meet demand in SouthwestMississippi/Louisiana markets. The Alabama-based company producesthe popular YellaWood pressure treated lumber, and is owned and ledby Jimmy Ranes, the famous Yella Fella seen trimmed in a yellowcowboy hat in the company’s TV advertisements.

“This is going to hit the fast track pretty quick,” Ranes saidMonday after presenting his plans to the Lincoln County Board ofSupervisors. “We’re not going to let any grass grow under ourfeet.”

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Ranes said GSWP has already begun hiring some administrativestaff for the coming operations, and will be looking to fill theranks with fork lift drivers, truck drivers, treating engineers,lumber taggers and other clerical staff immediately. FormerColumbus Lumber employees will be considered, he said. GSWPoperates its own trucking company, Greenbush Logistics Inc.

The company has purchased the wood treatment portion on thesprawling grounds of the former Columbus Lumber Co. from new ownersRex Lumber Co., as well as the nearby Phillips mill, where outdoorliving products like deck accessories will be produced. Ranes isplanning $5 million in investments to the facilities.

Depending on the success of the coming operation, which Ranesbelieves will be prominent, expansion is likely in the future. Hesaid other GSWP plants in large output areas employ around 200people, and he believes there is great potential in the localmarkets. The local market extends 150 miles from Brookhaven in alldirections, he said, and includes large areas like Jackson, NewOrleans, Baton Rouge and other areas.

“If it works like all our other places have, it will definitelyincrease,” Ranes said of employment at the local facilities. “And Ibelieve it will. Sky’s the limit – as much as we can sell.”

The company was in negotiations to open new facilities inAlexandria, La., to continue expanding its network when the optionto set up shop in Brookhaven became available, Ranes said. Theopportunity was made possible by the breakup and reacquisition ofthe former Columbus Lumber Co. by Florida-based Rex Lumber LLC,which has not yet made public its intentions for the 65-year-oldsawmill.

Ranes said GSWP agreed to come to Brookhaven after heavyrecruitment from Gov. Haley Barbour, who received an endorsement ofthe 40-year-old company from Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who servesalongside Ranes on the Auburn University Board of Trustees.

“When you have a prospect of that kind of notoriety, that’s thekind of industry we want in Lincoln County,” saidBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive VicePresident Cliff Brumfield, who introduced Ranes and his entourageat the board meeting.

Supervisors on Monday passed a resolution declaring their intentto grant several economic development incentives to GWSP, includingseveral tax breaks, assistance with industrial development bondsand Community Development Block Grants and upgraded roads andutilities leading into the mills. The company will also need anon-site well for the large amounts of water used in the pressuretreatment process.

The requests were a tall order considering the facilities mustbe up and running by Feb. 1, but supervisors responded withenthusiasm. With the road paved by approval from the sister states’governors, few hang-ups are expected.

“I think the board will act in a way that (GWSP) won’t bewaiting on us,” said Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop.”When you have an industry in hand and (Mississippi DevelopmentAuthority) understanding the industry’s time table, it has atendency to speed things up.”

GWSP was founded in Abbeville, Ala., in 1970 from a singletreatment facility left to Ranes’ family. It has since grown intoan industry with 11 plants that cover markets in almost the entireSouth and parts of the Plains. A profit-sharing company, itreaching profit-sharing margins this year despite the economicrecession, and has failed to reach profit share in only two of its40 years.

Ranes devoted much of his briefing to supervisors Monday tostressing the company’s community involvement. He’s from a smalltown and believes in supporting them, pointing out that all 11 GSWPfacilities are in small towns.

Ranes added that GSWP employees would join the chamber ofcommerce and other local clubs and organizations, and the companywould support local programs to invest in Brookhaven and LincolnCounty.

“Having grown up in a small town, I’ve seen some of our best andbrightest leave and contribute to another community,” Ranes said.”We’ve got to find a way to get our folks to stay at home and makeour community better.”