Sonoco Plastics expansion to add 35 jobs in Waynesville

When many businesses are still cutting back or maintaining their current workforce, Sonoco Plastics announced last week that it will add 35 jobs and expand its current Waynesville operations.

“Every job in today’s environment is important,” said Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Commission.

Sonoco Plastics, formerly known as Associated Packaging, currently employs 97 people.

Waynesville was one of several possible locations for the expansion, Clasby said. The state, county and town sweetened the deal by offering about $828,000 worth of incentives, including tax credits and tax grants, he said.

The local plant is a subsidiary of the Hartsville, S.C.-based Sonoco Products Company. The multi-billion dollar corporation manufactures consumer and industrial packaging. It mainly produces frozen food trays in Waynesville, with one of its biggest customers being Nestle.

In addition to the new jobs, Sonoco is expanding its local facility by 17,000 square feet and transforming it into a 24-hour operation, said Art Hagg, general manager of the company’s thermoforming division. Sonoco, which operates factories in U.S., Canada and Ireland, is closing a location in Toronto — another reason for the expansion.

The new capital investment is estimated at $11.7 million, according to a news release.

Hagg said one of the reasons the company chose Waynesville for expansion is because of its tenured workers.

“We already had a facility there, and we liked the workforce,” he said. “It’s an affordable place to be.”

Sonoco will be looking for supervisory staff, quality technicians, maintenance personnel and packers, Hagg said.

“I don’t anticipate a big problem filling that plant up with personnel,” he said.

The expansion and new jobs are a bright spot after months of reporting 8.9 percent unemployment rates for Haywood County. Total employment in the county slid from almost 27,000 jobs in 2008 to about 24,850 in 2009, and employment numbers have continued to fluctuate during the past couple year, according to a presentation at the Haywood County Economic Development Commission meeting.

“This expansion clearly demonstrates that Waynesville and Haywood County have an economic strategy to pursue economic opportunities beneficial to all of our citizens,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown in a news release. Brown is also the chairman of the economic development board.

During the recession, the number of manufacturing jobs dropped 13 percent but has almost bounced back completely since.

In 2010, there were 2,100 manufacturing jobs in Haywood County. And, while it only made up about 17 percent of countywide employment, it accounted for nearly 27 percent of the county’s wages, according to the presentation.

Unlike many industries, the packaging business, particularly microwaveable frozen food trays, fared well during the recession.

“It has been a pretty stable market,” Hagg said, adding that the industry has grown with the nation’s GDP.

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