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County officials discuss impact of closing of International Paper mill

Published 4:15pm Tuesday, September 17, 2013

International Paper Co. announced last week that the company will be closing its Courtland mill in Lawrence County.

The Courtland mill is part of the company’s Printing and Communications Papers Business. The mill will shut down in stages with a full closure expected to be complete by the end of the first quarter of 2014. This mill closure will reduce IP’s North American uncoated and coated freesheet paper production capacity by 950,000 tons, of which 765,000 is uncoated freesheet.

“This decision to permanently close capacity is primarily being driven by demand decline for uncoated freesheet paper products in the United States,” Chief Executive Officer John Faraci said in a statement.

The Courtland Mill produces papers for forms, envelopes, labels, copiers, printers and magazines. The demand for uncoated freesheet in North America has been in decline since 1999 and has recently accelerated as consumers continue to switch to electronic alternatives such as online publications and electronic billing and filing, the company said in a release.

The mill will close by early next year. The Courtland facility employs more than 1,100 people.

“These decisions are especially difficult because of the impact to long-serving and hard-working employees, their families and the surrounding communities,” said International Paper Chairman and CEO, John Faraci. “This decision to permanently close capacity is primarily being driven by demand decline for uncoated freesheet paper products in the United States.”

“We explored numerous business and re-purposing options for the Courtland Mill, but concluded that permanently closing the mill best positions the business for the future,” said Printing and Communications Papers Senior Vice-President Tim Nicholls.

The closing could have a significant impact on Franklin County, as well as all of north Alabama.

“The closing of this plant will have a detrimental impact on northwest Alabama,” Franklin County Development Authority executive director Mitch Mays said.

“When you lose 1,100 jobs, the payroll that goes with that creates a trickle down effect that affects the area and region as a whole.

“There are farmers in Franklin County and across the region who harvested their timber to go directly to that plant, so they are now facing the question of where their harvest will go.

Mays said people don’t always realize the impact that one plant’s closing has on the overall impact to a region.

“Oftentimes people only see that 1,100 people are losing their jobs, which is a huge loss, but they don’t realize how much the loss of those jobs can affect everything else. Farmers, insurance companies, and banks – you name it and it will probably be affected by this plant closing.

“It’s difficult to say right now exactly how the area will recover from this, but what we must do is re-double our efforts to help existing industry expand and to recruit new industry,” Mays said.

“One thing that I believe that will greatly help is the development of incentives targeted specifically to rural areas. There is always something in the news about industries locating and expanding in the big cities, but many times rural areas are left out of the picture.

“There is no doubt that 50 new jobs in a place like Franklin County would have a much bigger economic impact than 500 jobs in a metropolitan area.

“This is going to take some help from the state and from our state legislature to come up with these types of incentive packages, but I believe it could really help this area recover from such a detrimental loss like the loss of International Paper.”

State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow echoed those sentiments as he encouraged Gov. Robert Bentley and state officials to whatever they could to intervene and help prevent the plant’s closing.

“The economic impact of this could be devastating for northwest Alabama,” Morrow said.

“It will just be the tip of the iceberg. The loss of the 1,100 jobs is bad enough, but there will be thousands more affected, many of them here in Franklin County.”

Morrow pointed to the loggers who sell to International Paper as well as the businesses that sell the loggers fuel and the mechanics who service their trucks.

“That’s just a few examples,” he said.

“There will be countless businesses that will feel the impact of this.”

Morrow said the he would be offering any help that he could provide to state officials in working to develop a plan that might encourage the plant to stay in the area.

“We do a great job in this state of working to attract new industries, but we have to do something to help our existing industries so we don’t get to this point.”

Morrow said the closing of the Courtland mill could be worse than when other plants left the area in years past.

“This is critical to our economy because we are so tied to the timber industry in northwest Alabama,” he said.
















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