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  • Allen Turner

County’s $3.5 Million Incentive may Save IP Jobs

The International Paper (IP) Plant in Riegelwood would receive nearly $3.5 million in local incentives under a proposal the Columbus County Board of Commissioners is considering.

The incentives would be paid over a five-year period and based on the company’s new investment of $128 million to add a new production line.

The line will enhance IP’s competitiveness and save jobs that would otherwise be lost, said Gary Lanier, economic development director for Columbus County.

IP recently divested itself of one product manufactured in Columbus County and intends to expand its local production capacity of another product to be manufactured at the plant in Riegelwood, which will require the $128 million investment.

A second production line to manufacture a fluff paper product will be added, Lanier said.

That comes after IP sold their Carolina Brands Paper product, which had been manufactured at the Riegelwood facility, to another company.

The conversion may result in fewer positions.

“We are still working though the staffing process, but are optimistic that no one will involuntarily lose a job or be permanently laid off as a result of the planned conversion project,” said Kim Clewis, communications manager at the mill.

“The decision to reposition Riegelwood is an effort to best position the mill for the future. It was based on the growing global market demand for fluff pulp, the Riegelwood Mill’s competitive advantages and our ability to make quality fluff pulp. We currently make hardwood, softwood and fluff pulp, but with the conversion will make 100 percent fluff and softwood pulp,” she said.

Employees who operated the Carolina Brands production line now will operate the second fluff line. Without the addition of the new fluff production line, the employees who had worked on the Carolina Brands line would no longer be needed.

Clewis declined to comment on the specific number of jobs saved.

Awarding of the incentives not only will help preserve those local jobs but also greatly expand the county’s property tax base.

Lanier could not speculate about how many of the 650-700 employees at the plant would have lost their jobs without the addition of the second fluff line, but said it would have been a significant number.

According to the company website the fluff produced by IP is designed for use in absorbent products such as baby diapers, adult incontinence products, feminine hygiene products, medical products and airlaid nonwovens.

The proposed incentives would be paid over the next five years in annual payments, but only after all IP property taxes for the previous year have been paid.

A public hearing on the incentives is set for 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 5, in the county commissioner board chambers at the Dempsey Herring Annex building, located at 102 West Smith Street in Whiteville.

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