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Cashiers plant cuts 80 jobs; some go to Bryson, Canton

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Approximately 80 workers will be laid off from Cashier’s Consolidated Metco plastics plant beginning in January in the largest downsizing in Jackson County since the Ashley Company furniture plant closed in 2002.

The layoffs actually are a result of ConMet’s expansion in Bryson City and Canton, where the company has plants more than twice the size of that in Cashiers. Canton’s 220,000-square-foot plant is the newest addition to the company and, having been gearing up production for more than a year, will take over a majority of the work once done in Cashiers.

“It just makes good timing,” said Brian Kenyon, ConMet human resources director.

An estimated 25 to 30 administrative and manufacturing jobs will remain in Cashiers for the time being as some of the company’s equipment — vertical presses that help form ConMet’s molded plastic interiors for large trucks such as Volvo and Freightliners — is too big to easily move, Kenyon said.

But the layoffs in Cashiers do not translate to an equitable creation of jobs in Bryson City and Canton, as new equipment has enabled the company to reduce its workforce. Exactly how many new jobs will be created is undetermined at this time, Kenyon said. Plant employees have been given the option of transferring.

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“They did not frankly get a ton of people turning in a request to go,” Kenyon said.

For some like Jim Bryson, a plant veteran with 32 years of service, the commute — more than 100 miles round trip from Cashiers to Canton — just isn’t worth it.

“It’s just too far for me to drive really,” Bryson said.

Bryson, a maintenance worker whose wife also works at Cashiers ConMet, plans to look for another job, though he’s not exactly sure what’s available. A native to the area, he worked on a dam in South Carolina and on road construction in Franklin prior to getting a job with ConMet.

“I’m going to switch altogether, I’m just not, like I said, I’ve probably been there too long the way it is anyway,” he said.

Workers like Bryson are eligible for assistance through Jackson County’s Employment Security Commission.

“These folks that don’t transfer, since they are considered to be a dislocated worker due to plant closure, we can offer retraining for certain curriculums if an individual is interested in that,” said Ann Howell, branch manager of the ESC’s Joblink service.

The ESC pays for tuition, books and fees for workers to attend Southwestern Community College and study pre-selected programs based on the availability of jobs in the market, such as radiology, office systems technology, carpentry and plumbing.

However, Bryson said that the community impact shouldn’t be as large as perhaps anticipated.

“Really and truly the real local people, this is not going to really affect a lot of them,” he said.

Workers at ConMet come not just from Cashiers, but Sylva, Franklin, Brevard and even South Carolina, Bryson said.

ConMet’s plastics plant originally was an independent plant opened by retired businessman Ervin Baumrucker in 1969.

“He come down from Michigan and he seen that people needed work,” said Bryson, who knew Baumrucker personally. With his 32 years at the plant, he is one of 21 employees on staff hired prior to the plant’s ConMet acquisition in 1980.

ConMet has slowly grown over the years, finally hitting its stride locally in the past three years. The company more than doubled its workforce from 306 workers in 2002 to 640 workers as of November 2005 — a figure that does not account for impending layoffs.

“I hate to see it go out this way,” Bryson said. “It was the moniest-making plant they had. Just somebody up the ladder that figured they could do it better. At least they didn’t move it to Mexico, that’s all I can say.”

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