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Canton mill will close by summer

The sun sets on Pactiv-Evergreen's Canton mill as its closing is announced to workers on the evening of March 6. The sun sets on Pactiv-Evergreen's Canton mill as its closing is announced to workers on the evening of March 6. Cory Vaillancourt photo

After more than a century of serving as the cultural, economic and geographical center of the tiny Haywood County town of Canton, Pactiv-Evergreen’s Canton mill will cease operations at some time during the second quarter of this year. 

“I’m numb. Moreover, I’m heartbroken,” said Zeb Smathers, mayor of Canton. “I’m heartbroken for the men and women who will go home tonight and tell their spouses and children that they won’t have a job soon. There are no words. There’s nothing more I can do than mourn and stand by the workers of Evergreen. Seeing grown men cry is not what I was expecting on a Monday afternoon.”

Rumblings of trouble at the mill had been heard for some time. A month ago, company officials said that the facility would scale back production by shutting down one of its four machines, but there was no outward indication of anything larger afoot. Until today.

Workers were summoned to a series of meetings late this afternoon, where they were informed of the company’s decision.

“This is not at all a reflection of people in this room,” Byron Racki, president of beverage merchandising told a group of about 40 salaried employees gathered in an auditorium in one of the company’s facilities on Park Street, just across from the union hall.

Racki said that the decision had only been made within the last week, and that it was “almost exclusively a reflection of the market conditions, along with the capital costs that would be needed to upgrade the Canton facility.”

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The closing will likely occur near the end of May or beginning of June, according to Racki. The Waynesville facility will see a substantial reduction in workforce, on the order of two-thirds to three-fourths of its employees, but Racki wasn’t clear about other impacts there.

“This was not just about Canton, or just about Waynesville, or Pine Bluff,” he said, noting that a facility in Olmsted Falls, Ohio would close as well. “We are going to explore strategic alternatives for Pine Bluff and for the Waynesville facilities.”

The economic impact of the mill’s closing on Haywood County’s economy will be substantial. It's estimated that there are around 1,200 jobs at stake in Canton, and around 300 in Waynesville. 

The mill also treats the town of Canton’s wastewater. Those operations will not be impacted immediately, according to Racki.

“We will continue to operate that for the foreseeable future, and we're working closely with the city on a transition plan there,” he said. “So that will be a small group of folks who will operate that. We do not need the mill to operate just the wastewater treatment. So that's something we will work on with the city.”

Racki said that the most important concern right now was for workers to continue to operate the plant safely and avoid injuries for the rest of the time it’s in operation.

“I wanted to come and share this message personally, because I can't pretend to say I know what it's like, other than I know enough to know it's terrible,” he said. “And we've not reached this decision lightly.”

Human resources professionals from Evergreen will meet with all employees starting tomorrow morning, finishing by the end of the week, Racki said. Workers will receive at least 60 days’ notice before their employment is terminated. Some may be terminated sooner, but they’ll still receive full pay and benefits for 60 days.

Workers received Racki’s comments in stunned silence, with at least one audible gasp from someone in the audience. After Racki’s presentation, he took questions from the workers gathered there.

The mill, he said, is not a Superfund site. The Superfund program was established in 1980 under the auspices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the cleanup of sites that are contaminated with hazardous chemicals.

That could open a huge swath of land straddling the Pigeon River, right in the center of town, for other uses in the future.

Racki also elaborated on the specific market conditions that he says are responsible for the mill’s closing.

“In the last 15 months, there was a nice rebound from COVID,” he said. “Really, since November, December, markets have gone to hell, for lack of a better way of saying that. It's not just us, it's everybody, from a marketing standpoint.”

There’s a lot of excess capacity in the marketplace, Racki explained, which is why the company shut down the number 20 machine in early February.

“When we're looking at forecasts, and when things might get better, If anything I'll tell you unfortunately, specific to the paper side it's only gotten flat to worse for the last 60 days,” he said.

He also said that due to challenging economic conditions generally, people are choosing to eat more at home than at McDonald’s or Starbucks — huge consumers of paper products of all sorts.

“It’s not a good market for cup stock, either,” he said. “The paper part [of the plant], [machines] 11, 12 and 20 specifically, are impacted by that. It’s just for lack of demand. People just aren’t printing things.”

Racki said that the company would issue a press release between 8 and 9 p.m. this evening with further details.

The town of Canton’s fortunes have risen and fallen along with those of the mill for more than 100 years. The mill’s closing will be transformational for the small town, in ways both immediately apparent and not. But Canton has been recognized as “the little town that wouldn’t stay down” after surviving flooding in 2004, the Great Recession in 2008, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and another deadly flood in August, 2021.

Mayor Zeb Smathers thinks that this, too, shall pass.

“Everyone knows we’re a mill town, but not because of the mill,” Smathers said. “Being a mill town is about the grit, and when the odds are against you, about overcoming challenges. Ironically, the values of being a mill town are exactly what will get us through this.”

This is a developing story. Check for updates online, or on newsstands, in the next issue of The Smoky Mountain News, available on Wednesday, March 8. 

Leave a comment


  • Pactiv (the company that bought Evergreen) is owned by Reynolds (the aluminum foil and plastic wrap company) and never understood the paper business. Reynolds, via Pactiv, bought Evergreen because it thought (wrongheadedly) that it could diversify into more sustainable (than metals and plastics) business, give itself some sustainability credibility, and work the market from multiple angles (metals, plastics and paper). Pactiv/Reynolds then recognized it knows nothing about the paper business, had no passion to learn anything about the paper business, and will now take a highly tax advantaged loss on its Evergreen business that will benefit Reynolds for decades to come.

    posted by Boll Weevil

    Tuesday, 03/14/2023

  • Selina Naturally in Arden is hiring in Production if anyone is interested and looking for work!

    posted by carla delangre

    Monday, 03/13/2023

  • Canton has excellent road and rail connections and is fairly close to Asheville and even Atlanta airports. So with this huge chunk of flat land becoming available the opportunities are enormous. I sympathise immensely with the workers involved but, given a year or two, I'm confident that Canton will once more rise from the ashes. And, without the smell of the mill, it will become a very desirable place for Asheville workers to live and to have a bit more space than we're seeing with current Asheville developments.

    posted by John Mycroft

    Thursday, 03/09/2023

  • Pactiv-Evergreen is an Australian company heavily invested in the global "ESG: Environment/Social/Government" business model. It could be that with the mill's ongoing labor problems, Evergreen simply decided to shed the immense costs associated with ever-increasing EPA regulatory restrictions related to climate change and green energy transition, making it tough to upgrade, maintain, and compete in current market conditions, even with tax incentives. Was the Canton mill and it's community a sacrifice on the altar of ESG under the guise of a business decision? Get ready for a lot more hurt coming as more production moves offshore to places like Asia where environmental law is not as stringent, and AI takes over more and more tech positions here.

    posted by James L.

    Wednesday, 03/08/2023

  • Praying for this town and hopefully things will turn around for these families and this town it breaks my heart because I had to watch many in this same situation in Harnett Co. When the Erwin Denim Mill closed in Erwin NC my aunts and uncles had been there for years and that was everything to them it changed alot of things in our community and it was a horrible sad time for alot of heart aches when things like this happens...but I do know that NOTHING IS TOO HARD for GOD...?☦?

    posted by Celenna Mckeithen

    Wednesday, 03/08/2023

  • You build back better Union clowns voted for this….no one to blame but yourself.

    posted by BJ

    Wednesday, 03/08/2023

  • Vote Trump

    posted by Big Daddy

    Wednesday, 03/08/2023

  • Vote Trump

    posted by Big Daddy

    Wednesday, 03/08/2023

  • I hope Haywood County can learn from this. Diversify your income streams please.

    posted by Jim

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • The loss of all those jobs will initially be tough but with the current Haywood Co unemployment rate at a incredibly low 2.7% workers leaving the mill shouldn't have much problem finding other work. The paper mill was an environmental blight and it's closure will dramatically increase the desirability and value of Canton area real estate which is in an area of NC that is otherwise booming.

    posted by B6

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • At least the smell and all that debris getting on cars will be ending.

    posted by RT

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • Sounds alot like the DAYCO situation in Waynesville. Old plant needing repairs and upgrades and union not agreeing to contracts. Then the plant just closes the doors.. very sad thing for Canton and the workers. I worked there myself yrs ago. This Isnt about politics

    posted by Fred Ziffel

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • The economic impact will have far reaching implications in our region. People need to be VERY worried. Corporate greed will destroy America. It’s over for Haywood County. This place is done stick a fork in ‘er

    posted by Heather Packer

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • Is there a chance the enormous mill will be transformed into a company that offers original mill workers job/career opportunities?

    posted by Brown Eyed Girl

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • Thanks to the current administration that is running the country and allowing the imports with no regard to
    the working people of the USA!!!!!!!!!

    posted by Puppy Scott

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • Very sad but also not unexpected. Not enough capital or market demand to modernize the mill again. Soon the Pigeon River will run clear and the regional mill stench will end. A part of history I am glad to know and have been a part of. The paper town of Canton now has an opportunity to reinvent itself. Many, many great people live there and work at the Canton Mill!

    posted by Paul Dickens

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • I'm sure the capitalists at the top of this particular chain will be just fine. Too bad for the thousands that don't rank that high.

    posted by Dave

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

  • Over tha last 20 years or so there’s been consolidation in the paper industry, as in other industries. Is there any chance another firm will buy the mill site in Canton?

    posted by Don Boyce

    Tuesday, 03/07/2023

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