Walker on Domtar: 'We're just being very hopeful for them'

Hank Hayes • May 14, 2020 at 12:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Kingsport's idled Domtar paper mill is a big COVID-19 victim among existing industries, NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership CEO Clay Walker noted during an executive committee meeting held via Zoom on Wednesday.

Domtar announced last month the mill would be idled for three months, affecting about 300 people employed at the Kingsport mill.

Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull said Domtar's decision was forced on the plant due to business conditions occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Their product is this paper, an 8 by 11 paper," Shull said while holding up a piece of copy paper. "The demand for that dropped dramatically when all these schools closed all over the nation. We'd really like to get them back online."

Shull added the Domtar processing station in Ridgefields has continued to operate.

Walker pointed out a number of other existing companies, meanwhile, are in a hiring mode.

Walker also pointed to evolving resources that businesses can take advantage of, including RegionAHEAD and tricitiessupport.com.

"Obviously, COVID has affected our activity report as it has everybody's, but we're busier now than we typically are," Walker noted. "There is still project activity, which is always a good sign. Zoom meetings and conference calls have become our world."

Some economic development groups, like TVA for instance, have been holding virtual site visits, said Walker.

"I think we are going to revisit the target industry list," Walker said. "Medical and pharmaceutical make all the sense in the world ... I think a lot of companies are discovering that you can do a lot more from home than they thought they could have done. A lot of companies are going to see office space as an unnecessary expense."

Walker stressed NETWORKS' annual Red Carpet Tour for site consultants held in conjunction with the August night race at Bristol Motor Speedway may be in limbo.

"We don't know when the race will be or if there will be fans at the race," Walker said. "I also suspect the best consultants will have an only necessary travel policy ... it won't be what it used to be."

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