‘The heartbeat of Palatka:’ Brother-sister duo talk lifelong commitment to Georgia-Pacific mill

Though the Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper mill is just outside the Palatka city limits, so many people work there that its impact can be felt throughout the community. More than 900 people carry Georgia-Pacific’s scan badge on a lanyard, and when they visit the grocery store or restaurants, it sparks conversation every time.

“Most times they have a sister, brother, aunt or uncle who worked within the facility,” said Wade Dallas. “We are all tied in together. It’s one of the most sought after jobs.”

Georgia-Pacific serves as the largest non governmental employer in Putnam county, a county of about 75,000. Its total payroll is around $86 million, according to public affairs manager Terry Hadaway, with a career average salary in the range of $55,000.

But that’s not why Dallas and his sister, Karen Dallas Session, stayed so long. The company is like a family to them, after spending 30 years and 42 years respectively working long shifts at the mill. Their seven siblings and mother also worked for the company, bringing the Dallas family’s commitment to Georgia-Pacific to more than 150 years.

“Before my older brother Ralph retired five years ago, we had three of us here at the same time,” Dallas said. “There’s a sense of pride and camaraderie and there’s always something to talk about.”

After serving 20 years in the U.S. Marines, Dallas began as a mechanic with Georgia-Pacific.

He now serves in a group of seven mechanics, working what can sometimes become 16-hour days depending on how the machinery is functioning.

Dallas, 60, said the company’s safety program motivated him to come up with some solutions. He has a patent out now for a “safety swing gate,” which allows workers a safe place to step off of ladders.

“In a place like this there’s a lot going on, but you can implement things if you seek out the right channels to do it,” he said. “A lot of the stuff we’re working on now, it’s 70 years old. So it’s time to implement and increase some safety surrounding the stuff we work on for years and years.”

Session started out on the floor and in 1989 became the company’s first African American woman to serve as shift manager, leading 35 employees.

“Back then, the field of opportunity was not as open as it is now,” Session said. “It feels really good. You don’t have to sit back and say ‘oh, this is a man’s business.’ If you want it and you have what it takes, the opportunities are here.”

Session, 64, called her time at Georgia-Pacific as a “sweet journey” and said she wouldn’t change a thing.

She, like her brother, refers to her coworkers as family.

“They [the workers] look at this place as a lifeline,” Session said. “It’s a place that people want to work, where you can travel miles and miles to get here. That says something. All my life it was just where you wanted to be. It’s the heartbeat of Palatka.”


Dahlia Ghabour
July 10, 2018

#5 Best Cities for Millennials

J&J Vision: Talent

Three Regional Projects Receive Job Growth Grant Funding

The recent round of funding awards through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund show Northeast Florida as a big winner. The most recent announcement made by Florida Gov. Rick Scott yesterday awarded funds totaling nearly $4.4 million to three projects located in the JAX region that will enhance job training and infrastructure in our state. The projects include:

  • Baker County ($2,297,054) to create an access road to the Woodstock Industrial Park for advanced manufacturing and distribution projects.
  • St. Johns River State College ($1,383,237) to expand an advanced manufacturing and robotics training program that will support local manufacturing training, economic development and job growth for Clay, Putnam and St. Johns Counties.
  • Florida State College at Jacksonville ($710,352) to enhance the Northeast Florida Advanced Manufacturing & Logistic Job Growth program, which collaborates with more than 300 employers in the high-growth industries of advanced manufacturing and logistics.

This news joins the February announcement of $6 million from the fund to help construct a 1.5 mile long road within the Cecil Commerce Center. That grant will make it possible to develop access to a megasite primed for a large-scale manufacturing operation to the northern part of the complex with the potential to bring a substantial number of jobs and investment once complete.

Grants are reviewed by the Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida and awarded based on strong investment returns in improving infrastructure and enhancing workforce training. More than 245 proposals totaling $866 million in funding were submitted to be considered. With yesterday’s announcement, 27 projects totaling $70 million in funding have been selected.

Explore Flagler County

Ceiling and Wall Panel Manufacturer Expands in St. Johns County

Rulon International, a manufacturer that specializes in making acoustic ceilings and wood wall panels, announced its plans to create 20 new jobs  and expand its current building at World Commerce Center in St. Augustine, according to an article in The Daily Record. The new addition would add 27,000-square-feet to its 85,000-square-foot building to begin construction next month.

The company, which relocated its operations from Pennsylvania in 2006, has doubled its employee count since its entry into the Northeast Florida market.The addition of 20 more jobs is only the beginning, according to Rulon International President and CEO, Wayne Robison, who said “we expect to keep growing.”

According to Robison, he said “the company looked at four states when it was planning to move, and concluded that St. Augustine was the best fit because the leaders at Rulon liked the area and thought it would be a good place to do business and attract employees.”

Florida #2 Best State for Business

Jacksonville International Airport Continues to Make Headlines

Over the first five months of 2018, Jacksonville International Airport (JIA) has been in the news. Earlier this year, JIA announced its accolade of being ranked North America’s #1 airport for customer service according to customer surveys conducted by Airports Council International for the second year in a row; followed by news of two new nonstop flights on Allegiant to previously unrepresented cities of Louisville, Ky. and Norfolk, Va.; and the most recent announcement of six new destinations to be served by Frontier Airlines according to Jacksonville Business Journal five of which are new destinations for JIA.

Ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) are not the only airlines expanding at JIA. Southwest recently invested in a new route to Fort Lauderdale and United service to Denver began in April. The airlift schedule for June represents a substantial increase in service over 2017 with a 17.3 percent YOY growth in flights and 15.8 percent in seats. This is good news for the JAX region, its residents and businesses.

Once today’s announced flights begin service in August, travel to 40 different airports in North America can be reached nonstop to/from Jacksonville. Those cities are:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Buffalo
  • Charlotte
  • Chicago (O’Hare and Midway)
  • Cincinnati
  • Cleveland
  • Columbus
  • Dallas (Dallas-Fort Worth and Dallas Love)
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Houston (George Bush Intercontinental and Houston Hobby)
  • Indianapolis
  • Kansas City
  • Las Vegas
  • Louisville
  • Marsh Harbour, Bahamas
  • Miami
  • Milwaukee
  • Minneapolis
  • Nashville
  • New York (JFK and LaGuardia)
  • Newark
  • Norfolk
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • St. Louis (Lambert and Belleville)
  • Tampa
  • Toronto
  • Trenton
  • Washington, DC (Dulles and Reagan)


‘First Coast Connect’ Connects with Jerry Mallot

Karen Brune Mathis speaks with JAXUSA Partnership President Jerry Mallot on First Coast Connect  to reflect on his 24-year tenure as the leader of economic development in Northeast Florida. In the segment, Jerry talks about highlights in his career, challenges and what sets us apart.

Whether its the biggest deals of Fidelity National Financial, which as Jerry states was the most impactful with community investment, high-wage jobs and stature (950 jobs and $93 million in capital investment) or Amazon with the largest number of jobs at what will be 5,000 jobs for Northeast Florida workers, Jerry credits a smart and manageable growth plan that has kept our economy vibrant, people employed and our tax base thriving.

UNF named a 2018 “Best Value College”