Georgia-Pacific buys wood product plants

Georgia-Pacific has agreed to buy Grant Forest Products' oriented strand board facilities at Englehart and Earlton, Ontario; and Allendale and Clarendon, S.C.; for about $400 million.

Grant Forest Products must get approval for the sale from Canadian and U.S. bankruptcy courts.

Georgia-Pacific, which is owned by Wichita's Koch Industries, will employ more than 300 people in Ontario and at Allendale, S.C. It will complete the unfinished Clarendon plant and begin operations as soon as market conditions allow, employing more than 100 people.

The transaction is expected to close in the first half of the year.

—Dan Voorhis

Economic forecast remains murky

The Kansas economy's recent struggles will continue in 2010, a Wichita State University economist said, although the tide may finally be turning.

Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at WSU, said unemployment claims and the aviation sector show some indications of improvement.

"Our leading indicator has a couple of real positive signs," Hill said. "We have initial unemployment claims going down. We have the value of new parts for aviation starting to come up, and we're also seeing aviation stock coming up, which all show some positive signs going into 2010."

Even so, the local economy has a long way to go to recover. Hill said that in 2009 the center's economic index, which is a barometer of the overall health of the economy, was at its lowest since 1994.

"The state economy has had an expansionary period since 2003," Hill said. "Going into 2009, we've had our biggest contraction, about 3.2 percent."

—Bill Wilson

ICM wins contract to retrofit NY plant

ICM announced Monday that it was awarded the contract to retrofit an idled ethanol plant near Syracuse, N.Y.

Oil giant Sunoco owns the plant, the largest in the Northeast. Sunoco bought the plant in 2009.

Executives for Colwich-based ICM estimate the project will support dozens of ICM jobs and require 100 to 150 subcontract employees.

—Bill Wilson

U.S. automakers start to see improvement

DETROIT — General Motors may reopen some shuttered factories because it can't produce four of its vehicles fast enough to meet demand, and Chrysler is set to hire more engineers and product development workers.

While both companies still depend on government help, the moves are signs of increased confidence that the U.S. auto market bottomed out last year and will improve in 2010, even without a jolt from a Cash for Clunkers-style program.

GM factories making the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Cadillac SRX and Buick LaCrosse sedan are at or near capacity, GM's North American president, Mark Reuss, said.

—Associated Press

Energy-efficiency conference Jan. 22-23

A conference on energy-efficiency and sustainability will be Jan. 22-23 at Wichita State University's Hughes Metropolitan Complex at 29th North and Oliver.

The free conference is aimed at business, as well as the government and the public.

The conference features exhibits and Andy Karsner, former assistant energy secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

It runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 22 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 23.

—Dan Voorhis