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story.lead_photo.caption Shaun Keefe (from left) and Morgan Wiles listen Wednesday as Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks in Mountain Pine about the partners’ plans for an industrial park in the Garland County town. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen

MOUNTAIN PINE -- Two Mountain Pine natives announced Wednesday they'll invest some $3.8 million to develop an industrial park and provide jobs for their Garland County hometown.

Morgan Wiles, 33, and Shaun Keefe, 31, already have about 140 employees among their various companies. About 60 of those employees are at Morfe Manufacturing in Hot Springs, where they make insulated windows, and WinChoice, a retailer for the windows.

Wiles, a 2002 graduate of Mountain Pine High School, and Keefe, a 2004 graduate, went into business together in 2006.

Now they want to move those employees -- and an additional 123 workers -- to Mountain Pine.

"When you look at 123 jobs in a town the size of Mountain Pine, [it] is equivalent to creating 31,000 jobs in Little Rock," Gov. Asa Hutchinson told about 200 people who gathered Wednesday morning in Mountain Pine.

In May, Wiles, Keefe and two other business partners bought a 389-acre plot in Mountain Pine once home to a lumber mill operated by Weyerhaeuser Corp. from 1969 to 2006. More than 300 people -- many of them Mountain Pine residents -- lost their jobs. It was the first time in nearly 80 years that the town of about 700 didn't have a sawmill.

The town has only a few businesses -- the Corner Cafe restaurant, the Scrub and Suds laundry and Doolittles Grocery. A couple of convenience stores and a dollar store are on the edge of town, on Arkansas 227. The Mountain Pine School District serves about 600 students from Mountain Pine and nearby communities, such as Royal and Piney.

"This is a dream come true, to come back home and create jobs," Wiles told the crowd. "When Weyerhaeuser closed in 2006, we prayed and we prayed and we prayed for someone to take up the property."

Eleven years later, childhood friends Wiles and Keefe bought the 389 acres from Weyerhaeuser for $550,000. It had been listed for as much as $1.8 million, Wiles said, praising the company for working with the latest investors on a better price.

The acreage also happens to include a large building shared by City Hall and the Mountain Pine Historical Museum. Wiles said those entities can continue to use the property as long as they want.

"We want to use 100 acres for the industrial park, to bring medium-size to large-size manufacturers to Mountain Pine," Wiles said after Wednesday's ceremony. Electricity, water and natural gas lines are still intact, he said.

The state will provide a sales-tax break on the purchase of certain machinery and equipment and a rebate on payroll taxes, Wiles said. The city has agreed to forgo local sales taxes, he said.

Manufacturers and companies that move to the park will receive similar benefits, Wiles said.

Wiles joined the Army after graduating from high school and served a tour in Iraq. Keefe went on to college.

Wiles said availability of the land and its easy access to his current operations drew him to the Weyerhaeuser property. But there was a personal reason, too, he said.

"My parents and grandparents worked at that mill," he said.

Retaining employees, he said, was getting more difficult in Hot Springs because of an improving economy.

"And that's the great thing about Mountain Pine," he said. "If you bring them jobs and treat them right, they'll stay with you."

Wiles and his partners also have filed applications to cultivate medical marijuana and to run a medical-marijuana dispensary. The state eventually will issue five cultivation licenses and 32 dispensary licenses.

The development of the industrial park won't depend on the outcome of applying for those licenses, Wiles said.

Business on 09/28/2017

Print Headline: Investors plan $3.8M for Mountain Pine site

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