The Bryson City plant, which began operation in 1995, currently employs about 230 hourly workers and 40 salaried workers. According to a press release sent out Monday, Bryson City’s plastics facility operations will be transferred to ConMet’s Canton plant and about 125 Bryson City employees will be given the opportunity to transfer to Canton, 50 miles away.
“It certainly is a hit for our economy and for our workforce,” said Ken Mills, economic development director for Swain County. “With employees from Graham County and Swain County, it’s going to be 260 jobs we’re losing, but for the 20 years they’ve been here, they’ve been a great asset for us and we’ve been lucky to have them.”
The Bryson City facility opened more than two decades ago in a former textile warehouse, which according to the press release has an outdated physical plant that has limited modernization and expansion options.
Mills said he understands ConMet’s need to consolidate in a central location where it has room to expand. The 300,000-square-foot facility in Bryson City was maxed out with no room to expand, which forced ConMet to have several warehouse rentals in Swain and Jackson counties to meet its needs.
“That’s just not an optimal environment for them,” Mills said. “We can feel deflated about it, but I’m just glad they’re staying in Western North Carolina.”
The Bryson City plant closure was announced along with the company's plans to invest $32 million into modernizing its facilities and support more economic growth and jobs in the state. The investment will include development of a state-of-the-art, hub-assembly facility in Monroe and will enable ConMet to meet growing market demand for air disc brake hubs and other products from area customers, and is expected to create about 80 new jobs.
“While local customer demand will support only one plastics facility in North Carolina, we believe that our in-state investments will increase both our manufacturing footprint and jobs in North Carolina because the Canton facility is newer and much better positioned for future growth,” said ConMet President Mike Swiderski in the press release.
All hourly and many salaried employees at Bryson City whose positions are affected will be offered the opportunity to transfer to other ConMet locations in North Carolina. Those transfers are expected to start by this June. Additionally, ConMet will provide a comprehensive package of severance and benefits to those employees who are laid off as a result of the company’s reorganization of production in North Carolina.
“This was a difficult decision. We are proud of our hard-working Bryson City employees and we appreciate their contributions,” Swinderski said. “We are providing significant advance notice to try to help make this transition as easy as possible. Our highest priority will be working with all affected employees to assist them in any way possible during this transition.”
The Canton plant, which is located in the Beaverdam Industrial Park near Exit 33 off Interstate 40, has more than 400 employees and is one of Haywood County’s remaining manufacturing industries. ConMet broke ground in 2013 on a $5.9 million expansion to the Canton facility to consolidate some operations out of Arden and add another 80-plus jobs.
While Haywood County has been able to offer ConMet some economic incentives for expansion in Canton, Swain County isn’t in a financial position to offer any assistance to ConMet. On the other hand, Mills said ConMet never asked the county for anything either.
“Knowing we don’t have any local incentives, they’ve never asked anything from us,” he said. “On a positive note, ConMet has been instrumental in helping us develop our mechatronics program in the schools, which has been a great asset for us.”
Mills said he now has a year before ConMet shuts down to begin the process of figuring out how to best market the building to other potential industries. Swain doesn’t have any existing industries looking for 300,000 square feet of expansion space and finding a good match for the aging building will be a challenge. Mills said upgrades to the building are needed, but would need to wait until a promising tenant comes along with particular specifications.