Dec 212011

By Naomi Hatch–

“There are a number of job creating prospects that are on the horizon and it’s not on the distant horizon, it’s the very near horizon, as far as I’m concerned,” Snowflake Town Manager Paul Watson advised the town council Dec. 13.

“Local economic development, as well as regional economic development, has made big strides,” said Watson, noting that they couldn’t take all the credit, because a lot had to do with the resources in the area.

Watson said that American West Potash has not been in the public eye as much as two other potash companies, but by all indications it is further along in the process than the other companies.

In a recent meeting, an AWP official reported that they had received a report on Oct. 21 that tells them that potash is actually there and they were expecting a report this week that would tell them if it is feasible to retrieve that potash.

“They are anticipating having permitting in place and actually beginning construction by the end of next year, which is pretty quick,” Watson said. “They hope to actually be mining a year from then.” The company laid out the construction process that they will employ over 500 people, “and it could be happening two years from now,” said Watson.

The forest initiative that will allow contractors to bid on a project to harvest the forest requires submission of a plan for the harvested product.

There are two bidders, including an OSB plant proposed in Winslow, which would create jobs throughout the whole region, because the firm would harvest wood products throughout the forest. The other is out of Heber, and is proposing to take a portable operation into the forest where they would create a product that would cut a 4×4 or 6×6 rough lumber board that would then be sent to other plants for finishing.

Watson said that additional information was requested, and the Forest Service is in the process of reviewing that information.

“That process could start in six to 18 months depending on who gets the bid,” said Watson. “If the bid goes to Winslow, they would have 1,000 employees.”

He also mentioned the possible establishment of a private prison in Winslow, but the state has not yet awarded these contracts.

Watson reported that Snowflake is working with local landowners to identify industrial areas in the community. A large property owner was scheduled to visit this week, but postponed the trip due to weather conditions.

Watson served on the Navajo County Industrial Development Authority (NCIDA) prior to being hired as Snowflake’s town manager. He explained that it is an entity that can allocate tax exempt bonding to companies looking to expand or locate in the area. He noted that there was a telephone conference the previous day to discuss a potential client looking into acquiring the paper mill.

The firm presented a preliminary plan under which it would convert existing equipment from newsprint to liner board, and place additional equipment where the No. 2 machine used to be that would allow them to manufacture tissue and paper towel product.

“The concept is that they would have contracts with name brands and not only produce the paper, but produce on-site packaging,” said Watson, explaining that this is so competitive that it’s the shipping that makes or breaks it, and they feel that the shipping opportunity here with rail or truck is a positive.

“The bottom line is, if this goes through they will be expanding operations and have additional employees,” said Watson. “If this goes through, the timeframe is beginning the first quarter of 2012.”

Watson went on to explain that at this point they are asking the NCIDA to pass a resolution for the state to set aside an amount. The company would use private financing as well as institutional financing, said Watson.

“There’s job creation out there that can have a significant impact on the Town of Snowflake, probably turn us around farther than the state or national economy,” he concluded.

In other business Dec. 13, the council:

* Unanimously approved Resolution 11-565, which approves joining the Rural Arizona Group Health Trust, a pool of cities and towns that offer medical, dental, vision and life insurance to its members through a preferred provider organization (PPO) with a $300 deductible or a health savings account, which would have a $2,600 deductible.

After many hours of research and discussion with the town manager and mayor, Finance Director Brian Richards recommended membership with the trust. He noted that last year they were with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the premiums would be going up approximately 43 percent this year.

Councilwoman Beverlee Kay, who was not opposed to the measure, said, “I personally feel that when talking about that amount of money, the council should have an opportunity to research it.” She asked that rather than receive the information the week prior to the meeting, they have time to do their own research. She acknowledged that it was not a matter of trust and said she realized the mayor had spent a lot of time working on this, but because it is one of the most costly budget items, she felt they should have an opportunity to do their own research.

* Unanimously approved a contract for maintenance of a copier with Ikon, a company out of Show Low. Also bidding was Perfect Printz of Snowflake, but Richards said that Ikon will save the town approximately $550 annually.