The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

September 11, 2013

International Paper closing Courtland mill, 1,100 jobs affected

COURTLAND — International Paper said Wednesday it will close a north Alabama mill because of declining demand, a move that will affect more than 1,100 jobs in the Tennessee Valley.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based company said the plant in Courtland will shut down by early 2014.

The mill makes a type of paper used in magazines, forms, copiers and printers, but International Paper said demand is down as customers switch to online publications and electronic billing and record-keeping.

The decision stunned Lawrence County, where the company is the largest employer.

"It's going to be a terrible Christmas for 1,100 workers who come from throughout northwest Alabama," said state Sen. Roger Bedford, whose district includes part of the county.

The mill's closing will affect the timber industry within a 200-mile radius and will cause layoffs of truck drivers, pulp wooders and others, said state Sen. Paul Bussman.

"There is a tremendous effect that is much larger than the factory itself," said Bussman, R-Cullman.

Lawrence County's July unemployment rate of 7.1 percent was above the state average of 6.3 percent.

The company said it looked at way to save the plant, located in a town of about 600 people, but couldn't find any.

"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," vice president Tim Nicholls said in a statement.

The company said it will work with union officials on benefits and other help for hourly workers, and salaried employees can get severance packages and other aid. A spokesman said it was too early to say whether any of the plant's 1,127 workers might get positions elsewhere within the company.

Gov. Robert Bentley asked the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to provide job-training funds and other assistance to displaced workers.

"The team will meet with workers and discuss with them a wide variety of options to help them during this difficult time," he said in a statement.

International Paper acknowledged the impact on the region.

"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 chief executive John Faraci.

The company said its printing and communications papers business will still make uncoated freesheet and other paper at four mills in Eastover, S.C.; Georgetown, S.C., Ticonderoga, N.Y., and Riverdale, Ala., near Selma.

International Paper also has mills in Prattville and Pine Hill, and it has several smaller box plants in the state.

International Paper employs about 70,000 people in more than 24 countries. It had $28 billion in net sales last year.

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