PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A Hong Kong-based company has purchased a pulp mill in the lower Willamette Valley.

The Cascade Pacific Pulp mill near Halsey had been owned by Pope & Talbot, which went bankrupt in 2008 after 160 years in business. A Minnesota private equity firm won the mill for $31.2 million in an auction in June 2008.

This week's sale to International Grand Investment Corp. appears to be a first for the Oregon wood products industry.

"I'm not aware of any other mill with owners in China," said Ray Wilkeson, president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, an industry trade group. "It would not be surprising to see more of that in the future."

The Hong Kong company has mostly acted as a trading company, buying pulp from across the world to sell to customers in China, a country with a growing demand for paper products. Sales to Asia comprise about one-half to two-thirds of the Halsey mill's business, said Wayne Henneck, president of Cascade Pacific Pulp.

"The (Hong Kong) company is integrating vertically," said Henneck, who will remain president. "The Asian markets have been very hot. This is the first mill they'll own in North America. It may not be the last."

The various ownership changes have created uncertainty for 170 workers at a time of double-digit jobless rates. But Henneck says he sees the sale as providing some stability for the mill, which produces bleached and unbleached pulp for use in paper products and building materials and is seeing an uptick after spells of downtime during the recession.

"The private equity firm always intended to buy distressed companies, get them on their feet and sell them," Henneck said. "They were not interested in pulp and paper. These are strategic owners who are interested in what we do."

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2010 The AP.

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