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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
With the "Charmin Bear" keeping watch Friday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., center, chats with Srinivas Reddy and Eric Hagemeister.

BOX ELDER COUNTY — A year ago, it was a field of greens. Now it's hailed as a "Field of Dreams."

A former site of many plants was dedicated Friday as the future site of a single huge plant, one that will manufacture Procter & Gamble paper products and initially employ 300 people.

But at groundbreaking ceremonies, company officials repeatedly said more will come to the site at 5000 N. Iowa String Road near Bear River.

The first phase, representing a $300 million investment, will be operating by the second half of 2010, according to Julio Nemeth, manager of P&G's Global Family Care business. "And trust me," he told the crowd, "there are other phases coming."

The 1 million-square-foot plant initially will produce Bounty paper towels and Charmin toilet paper — brands with the top U.S. market share for the past 25 years.

"The growth of these brands will soon exceed our current capacity, particularly west of the Rockies, and thus our decision to build a new manufacturing site versus simply expanding at an existing site," said Mary Lynn Ferguson-McHugh, president of P&G Family Care.

"But this will only be the beginning," she said. "With our track record, we expect to continue to grow for years to come."

R. Keith Harrison, global product supply officer for P&G, suggested Box Elder County's facility could grow like another P&G plant in Mehoopany, Pa. That plant was built in 1966 with 350 employees and projections of perhaps eventually 600. It now has 2,300 workers, a payroll of $180 million and local spending of $1 billion annually.

"That's what I'm dreaming that we'll end up with here, and I'm convinced we will," Harrison said.

Friday's public ceremony and visions for the future were in stark contrast with the company's dealings in feeling out Utah as a potential plant site. Before the company announced last October that Utah was selected, officials for several months shrouded their activities in secrecy, referring to them as "Project Goldrush" and communicating with government and other officials using only their first names.

Although the company received financial incentives from state and local governments, Ferguson-McHugh on Friday said a skilled work force "and the winning culture of Utah" made it a great fit for P&G.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the company and government officials "worked without barriers and bureaucracy," "egos were dropped" and activities moved seamlessly to accommodate P&G. He said Utah was thrilled to have the company.

"There isn't a state in America that wouldn't want to be doing what we're doing up here today," he said. "There isn't a state in America that wouldn't be proud to have one the great companies in the world announcing this kind of thing."

The governor said Utah's selection is "like the ultimate seal of approval." But he also said he believed the state perhaps did not fully realize last October what the plant would mean in the long term for jobs and manufacturing, which he said is "where the economy begins."

The plant, on a 720-acre site, will be the sixth in the Cincinnati-based company's towel/tissue operations. It will be the company's first new greenfield site in the United States in 30 years.

Nemeth said the plant will have state-of-the-art paper industry equipment, an open environment "full of light" and training opportunities for employees, and it likely will be a magnet for supplier companies to put operations nearby.

"This site," Harrison said, "is going to be something truly special, not just in terms of the results that it delivers but also in terms of the leading-edge environmental impact that it has, and it will be something that you will be proud of and proud to have in your community."

The community already has benefited. On Friday, plant manager Joe Tomon presented a $20,000 donation to the Utah Food Bank.

Huntsman noted the impressive brick-and-mortar elements of the project, but also saluted the opportunities for local workers. "And their careers are going to take off in ways that they can't even dream about today, and that's opportunity," the governor said. "This is real opportunities for human beings, the human potential, that ultimately this business is going to bring to the state that is just unquantifiable at this point."

Box Elder County Commissioner Clark Davis said he was impressed with how well the company treated its employees at a plant in Missouri, and he expects the same in Utah.

"This event is the inception, not the culmination, of a relationship that will be nurtured and cultivated by your company and by our residents for decades and generations to come," he told P&G officials. "I'm confident that the company's investment in our community will continue to grow and that you will be rewarded many times over for your commitment and your site selection of Box Elder County."

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