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Pratt outlines San Francisco box plans

AUSTRALIA (From news reports) -- Anthony Pratt has revealed his US company will build its next American box plant in the greater San Francisco area, and may spend up to $US500 million ($624.3m) on a new US paper mill as part of his pledge to spend $US2 billion in the world's biggest economy.

Clarifying his pledge before President Donald Trump in May to spend $US2bn in America over the next decade, Mr Pratt said the new 47,000sq m box manufacturing factory would be the most advanced his US firm, Pratt Industries, had ever built.

It comes after Mr Pratt last month pledged that his family's Visy paper, packaging and recycling group would invest $2bn in Australia to create 5000 high-paying manufacturing jobs.

He made the Australian pledge at the opening of the $100m expansion of Visy's Tumut paper mill in southern NSW, which was attended by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"I am very proud to say in the past three months, we have pledged more than $5bn -- $US2bn in the US, $2bn in Australia and $1bn in philanthropy,'' Mr Pratt told The Australian on the sidelines of The Wall Street Journal's Global Food Forum dinner in San Francisco.

"It has been a big three months. Going forward, we will continue to roll out these $US100m dollops of investment in America. But some will be $US50m and some will be $US400-500m.'' A new paper mill can be worth up to $US500m.

The new San Francisco box plant will use the robotics model deployed at a similar Pratt plant at Beloit in Wisconsin that produces 135,000 tonnes of product a year with only 98 staff, compared to the 200 employees at a conventional plant.

That prototype has been further improved at the company's 37,000sq m box plant at Rockwall in Texas, which saw the first spend of Mr Pratt's $US2bn investment pledge. But the San Francisco plant will be further advanced than Rockwall.

Pratt Industries, the fifth-biggest packaging company in the US, made its first acquisition in California in 2015 when it bought fruit and vegetable packaging firm Robert Mann Packaging.

Mr Pratt has previously said that his company's California business alone would grow to generate revenues of $1bn for Pratt Industries over the course of the next decade, and that the company would eventually build a paper mill on the US west coast.

"Paper from Tumut will go to this new San Francisco factory and be made into fruit and vegetable boxes," Mr Pratt said.

"So far we have only been in northern California, and we hope eventually to migrate down to southern California, notably Los Angeles. We are very upbeat about Australia and America -- we are linking the west coast of America to Australia.''

Pratt Industries employs 7000 staff in 68 facilities across US.

At The Wall Street Journal's event, Mr Pratt talked up the recovery in US food exports over the past year, underpinned by the nation's most populous state, California. "Remarkably, California's far­mers, orchardists and ranchers grow $US50bn worth of food, and when that passes through the state's entire food production, processing and export sectors its value quadruples to over $US200bn. So it's a huge multiplier,'' he told the forum. He also claimed "ag-tech is where fintech was five years ago," highlighting the evolution of the Californian AgStart tech accelerator launched by the University of California, Davis. "The AgStart tech innovator hub which brings entrepreneurs, investors and farmers together to bring wild new ideas to market is a great example of the new important collaborations,'' he said.

****

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