KINSGPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) toured the Domtar Packaging Mill Friday as a stop on his economic development tour of Tennessee.

The Republican senator said he was impressed by the progress he had seen at Domtar, as well as what he’d heard from Eastman Chemical executives, shoring up a promising future for economic development in Kingsport.

“Eastman is making tremendous progress in the area of plastics, whereas Domtar is focused on cardboard manufacturing, packaging board. So what we’re seeing here in this region is cutting edge in terms of recycling and again getting ahead of where the market is going. I’m very optimistic about what it means for East Tennessee and all the people that may work here,” Hagerty said.

The senator joined Domtar executives and news media members on a tour of the Domtar facility, now just past the demolition phase of the $350 million project. Hagerty said he was very impressed with the agility of the company, moving with the market.

“Electronic commerce has really changed the way packaging requirements have been fulfilled here in the United States, and Domtar’s realized that they’ve taken a major investment to get ahead of the curve and really move in the direction that the market is going,” Hagerty said.

He added that that might be good for Domtar as a company, but that it’s also good for Tennessee and for all the employees in the region.

“It’s very exciting to see what’s happening here, and as they do this, they are taking the environment into account as well. I think it’s going to create a very helpful and self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing type of process it’s going to be good for the entire region,” he said.

Hagerty started his economic development tour in Middle Tennessee, talking with employers, trying to understand the issues they’re facing.

“We need to do everything we can to create the proper environment for businesses here so that we can see further economic growth, as we’re coming out of this recession induced by the pandemic, we need to create the conditions so that people get back to work, and that will solve so many problems for our families here in Tennessee,” he said.

Hagerty said he aims to learn better ways to create a receptive business climate in Tennessee.

“I want to make America the most attractive place in the world to invest capital. Capital investment begets more jobs and more competitiveness,” Hagerty said. “So, the American economy needs to remain at the forefront in terms of our competitiveness. The types of investments that we’re seeing right here today in Kingsport are doing just that, creating more good jobs, creating competitive industry, and again keeping America at the forefront.”

Domtar executives told News Channel 11 that when the plant re-opens toward the end of 2022, it will not employ as many workers as before the pandemic.

“Starting in December, in a phased approach, we’re going to start bringing people back on the hourly workforce that aligns with our construction schedule here,” Troy Wilson, General Manager of Kingsport Domtar said.

Though the company says it has plenty of time to get operations complete in the proposed timeline, they hope not to waste any time.

“If you looked at the schedule right now, we’ve completed most of the demolition which is moving the stuff that we’re not going to be using out of the way, and over the next year, plus or minus a couple of months, we’ll be moving into installing our new equipment and Troy and the team will be bringing the workforce back and there’ll be some training to be done. And then in the third quarter next year, you’ll see you’ll really start to see things start to crank up, And we’ll be in our new business then,” said Charlie Floyd, VP Packaging Strategic Capital for Domtar.

Floyd said that Domtar’s plans should inject business growth opportunities into the region.

“You can’t see it when you ride by on the street and that’s by design, but there’s a lot going on in the back of the mill, and that’s certainly feeding the economy in Kingsport, and it’s helping us get ready for a new business venture for Domtar,” Floyd said.

Salaried Domtar employees are set to return to work as soon as October, with hourly employees joining them in phases.

“There’ll be a group in December, and then following that, there’ll be a group in January, and then the final group will be in February, so we’ll have the entire workforce back in training in February and that training run into May,” Wilson explained.

Since the Domtar Mill has been out of commission for a while, the team told News Channel 11 that the workers will have to undergo safety training at the higher education center and the R-CAM in downtown Kingsport.

“Everything’s progressing as planned. There’s a couple hiccups here and there, but nothing major to even speak of so again we do have a little bit of time on our hands, but I would say I will be glad when we get all the employees back. Can’t wait for that day that we get our team back, and we start functioning as a team and build the operation,” Wilson said.