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Jul 15, 2023

Graphic Packaging’s planned Waco plant will house a football-field-sized machine to create new paperboard packing from recycled corrugated cardboard.

An Atlanta firm Tuesday announced plans to spend $1 billion on a high-tech paperboard recycling mill in Waco, marking a record investment for economic development here, local officials said.

Graphic Packaging International plans to break ground this spring on the 640,000-square-foot facility in Texas Central Park. The mill will turn corrugated box cardboard into thinner paperboard packaging for cereal boxes and other consumer products. Production will commence in 2026, company officials said.

The company is set to hire 230 people with average pay of $65,000 plus benefits. Graphic Packaging is finalizing an economic development deal with the city of Waco, McLennan County, Waco Industrial Foundation and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

The Waco Industrial Foundation owned the land Graphic Packaging will occupy. It is located roughly between the Hello Bello diaper plant on Texas Central Parkway and Cat Logistics at 2901 Gateway Boulevard.

Waco businessman David Mercer recently confirmed he will spend about $2 million extending Gateway Boulevard from Bagby Avenue to Interstate 35, in support of development on land he owns there.

“We’re really thrilled to be able to announce our first billion-dollar capital investment in the city of Waco and McLennan County,” Waco Mayor Dillon Meek said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s a really dynamic company with a global presence, and it’s been a real honor to get to know the leadership of the organization, who are very intentional in rendering a really great product and also being a great community member.”

A rendering from Graphic Packaging shows a 640,000-square-foot paper mill in the Texas Central Industrial Park.

Local leaders have spent a year in discussions with Graphic Packaging about building a recycling facility to serve the growing Texas market. Graphic Packaging initially approached Waco officials after consulting with state economic development officials about possible sites.

McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said he and other local leaders had long discussions with corporate executives and visited a flagship plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

He said the team made sure the plant would not cause odor problems or other environmental issues in Waco, and he was impressed with the operation.

“They are undoubtedly committed to health and safety and value the opportunities Waco offers for community partnerships,” Felton said in a statement.

He described the Kalamazoo plant as “pristine,” comparing it to facilities used in food production.

The paper recycling process mostly uses water and starch and does not come with the sulfur smell of plants making virgin paper from trees, said Kris Collins, senior vice president of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

“It does not have a smell to it,” she said.

Graphic Packaging is a publicly traded company and one of the largest producers of folding cartons and fiber-based food service products in the United States and Europe.

“We are looking forward to joining the Waco community and working with the great talent base in the area,” Graphic Packaging President and CEO Michael Doss said in a statement. “We appreciate the strong support and engagement we received from the City of Waco and McLennan County as we conducted our site selection process.

“Building a new recycled paperboard mill in Waco will enhance our ability to meet growing global demand for packaging made with recycled materials.”

Collins said Waco’s location within 200 miles of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio gives Graphic Packaging ideal access to customers and suppliers.

“Location has been key in this process for them, and we’ve learned through this process that we are at the center of the circular economy,” she said. “Being right in the middle of that Texas Triangle has really given us a competitive edge for companies that are trying to hit those markets or bring in materials for those markets.”

Waco officials talk about Graphic Packaging's plans to spend $1 billion on a high-tech paperboard recycling mill in Waco, marking a record investment for economic development here, they said.

The $1 billion capital investment over three years is the largest economic development announcement to date, comparing favorably with Amazon’s $250 million investment in a fulfillment center and Envases International’s intentions to spend $200 million building an aluminum can plant.

Waco City Manager Bradley Ford said the construction site will require infrastructure and roadway installation as construction progresses. He said the plant will become among the top five water ratepayers in Greater Waco upon completion, as well as one of the top tax revenue generators in McLennan County.

Ford said the city intends to provide treated effluent water to the plant by extending a line from the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System plant on the Brazos River. The treatment plant generates up to 17 million gallons a day of effluent water, enough to supply Graphic Packaging and other industrial park users, Ford said.

Ford said the city’s past investment in water and utilities helped Waco stand out among Texas cities competing for the mill.

“They picked a location that they felt like showed a long-term commitment to them from a water and utility infrastructure planning standpoint,” he said. “They saw and heard from us that we’ve had a long view on utilities for a long time. And that’s important when you’re creating a generational investment like this.”

Ford said siting the mill in Waco has secondary benefits, such as helping other businesses and improving Waco’s sustainability.

“We’re excited locally because some of that stock is going to be local (paper) that is traditionally ending up in the landfill,” he said.

He said he expects Sunbright Recycling, which takes paper products from the city’s curbside recycling program, would be in a position to do business with Graphic.

Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Kris Collins, from left, Waco Mayor Dillon Meek, City Manager Bradley Ford and McLennan County Judge Scott Felton have been working on the Graphic Packaging deal for the past year.

Meek said the industrial tax base will benefit the city of Waco, McLennan County, McLennan Community College and Midway Independent School District, taking pressure off residential taxpayers.

“To me the revenue this will generate for the city is a real win for the taxpayer of McLennan County,” Meek said.

Collins said local officials met with the general contractor Graphic Packaging has chosen to build its Waco mill. She declined to name the company but said it expressed a commitment to hire as many local subcontractors as possible.

Waco businessman Bill Clifton also visited Kalamazoo as a representative of the Waco Industrial Foundation. He said it is an “impressive facility, a couple of football fields long, that puts out a lot of product.”

“The figure I heard was 550 short tons a year,” he said.

“I’m very excited about the technology this brings to Waco,” Clifton said. “I saw a couple of high-tech control rooms that reminded me of ‘Star Trek.’ When you think of paper, you think of a pretty basic necessity, a basic resource. But there’s a lot more to it, more technology.”

Clifton said it is his understanding the company will fly employees to Kalamazoo for hands-on training, though he is confident it also will take advantage of a “great resource” in Texas State Technical College.

In the same way Waco is attractive because of its proximity to larger cities, the Kalamazoo facility is about halfway between Detroit and Chicago, he said. Clifton said products made in Waco will go to markets in California and Mexico.

Ford said the plant will provide a spark to the economy even before it opens, the contractor and subcontractors having 700 to 800 people on site during construction.

Collins said the plant will use railroad cars, so access to Union Pacific tracks may necessitate building a rail spur.

This video was produced and provided by Graphic Packaging: Graphic Packaging to build a state-of-the-art coated recycled paperboard (CRB) mill in Waco, Texas

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