Bark plant rebounds after fire

Published 6:00 pm Friday, October 14, 2011

Nearly five months after a fire destroyedmaintenance and packaging buildings at the Phillips Bark ProcessingCompany, president David Phillips was eager to host the LincolnCounty Forestry Association’s (LCFA) annual fall tour Thursday atthe plant.

    The plant has been back up and running to near full capacity sinceabout eight weeks after the blaze, Phillips said.

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    “We were able to ship bulk product the next day after the fire,” hesaid. “Bulk accounts for about 40 percent of our product. The other60 percent is packaged product.”

    Phillips explained demolition of the damaged property andreconstruction of the new property began the day after the fire andconcluded on June 20.

    Currently, the plant is operating with one packaging line, whichknocks down normal productivity to about half of what was producedand shipped prior to the fire, Phillips said.

    The fire destroyed two automatic packaging lines. However, Phillipshas one new one installed already and there are plans for thesecond to come in February, he said.

    “Right now, we’re off about 20 percent of what our peak used tobe,” he said.

    Phillips recalled the blaze and responders’ reactions to it.

    “I remember firefighters saying that was one of the biggest firesthey’ve ever had to tackle,” Phillips said. “And the insurancecompany said it was one of their biggest losses. But we’reback.”

    The LCFA is made up of timberland owners, professional foresters,state agencies, logging contractors and other various manufacturersand fiber suppliers like Phillips Bark.

    Members gathered in the new packaging building to hear about theplant’s operations and impact on the local economy.

    “We usually do a Saturday field day for the annual tour and have alot of people turn out for that,” said Rebecca Bates, LincolnCounty MSU Extension Office coordinator said. “But even for aweekday it looks like we’re having a good turnout. More than Iexpected. Probably about 85 people total.”

    Bates explained there was an interest to tour the Phillips Barkplant because of the fire back in May so people could see they’reup and running and doing well.

    Phillips informed the members that the company, which ships tocorporate and private owners in a 250-mile radius, gets 85 percentof its revenue from Lincoln County. He reported $2 million inpayroll taxes were paid in 2010.

    “It’s very fortunate to bring most back to Lincoln County,” hesaid. “We pay our taxes and have repairs done locally and banklocally.

    “This association is dear to my heart,” Phillips said about theLCFA. “We sell regionally and bring money back to the county. We’rehere to stay.”

    LCFA President Joe Dan Leggett also spoke at the gathering toinform the members of two awards they were receiving from theMississippi Forestry Association (MFA).

    At next week’s annual MFA meeting in Jackson, the LCFA will beawarded Outstanding County Forestry Association of the Year andOutstanding Project of the Year for its Exchange Club springfundraiser.

    After Phillips’ presentation, he led the LCFA members on a tour ofthe plant, which included the seeing the process of turning barkinto various mulches from beginning to end.

    Phillips said color bark is something new in the past few yearsthat has really grown in popularity. Another new operation for thecompany is using vegetable debris as raw material for some of itsproducts.

    “I think was absolutely successful,” Bates after the tour. “ThePhillipses did a good job of putting on the tour and entertainingeverybody and informing people of what they do for LincolnCounty.”