Across the mountains, companies scrape to avoid layoffs

Jackson Paper employee Tim Coggins Jr. has something a lot of people don’t have these days — job security.

Jackson Paper has not laid off any of its 120 employees and doesn’t plan to.

“That makes me feel excellent,” said Coggins, whose father also works at the plant. “Being a young father that’s really important.”

The Sylva company pays out $9 million in wages and benefits annually.

The plant produces corrugated medium — the middle layer of a cardboard box that gives it stability.

Jackson Paper is avoiding layoffs by keeping production costs low by burning wood shavings for fuel rather than coal or oil, said Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey L. Murphy.

With 55 competitors across the country, Jackson Paper has the seventh lowest production cost.

Still the company saw a 20 percent drop in business in November, but rather than curtailing production and laying off employees, it expanded its customer base.

Murphy is not too optimistic about the stimulus package.

“We hope it works, but we’re not keeping our fingers crossed that it will help Jackson Paper,” Murphy said.

Waynesville manufacturer Associated Packaging also has not laid off any of its 150 employees. The company makes plastic packaging for the frozen food industry, like the trays microwaveable dinners come in.

Plant Manager Gerald Jensen said business is down a little but not substantially.

Jensen also has problems with the stimulus package. “My personal opinion, I don’t think much of it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s promoting growth. I think there’s a lot of pork spending. Basically it’s growing the federal government.”

There is not enough money in the stimulus package to turn things around quickly, said Tektone Sound & Design Vice President of Marketing Johnny Mira-Knippel.

Tektone, a Franklin company that manufactures nurse call systems for hospitals and assisted-living facilities, employs about 70.

If the stimulus package benefits health care, Tektone could see an increase in business.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Mira-Knippel, whose company has offered early retirement to some employees and temporarily laid off workers.

But in order for the stimulus package to be more effective it would require trillions of dollars, not $819 billion, which will only “soften the blow,” Mira-Knippel said.

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