Local elected officials are responding this morning to the announcement by Georgia Pacific that in mid-March it will close the communications paper division of its Port Hudson facility as well as the wood yard, pulp mill and energy complex that support it.
The closure will result in the layoff of some 650 workers at the East Baton Rouge Parish plant, and the elimination of about 40 related sales and business positions around the U.S.
“It was not the kind of news any of us wanted to wake up to this morning,” says Mayor Sharon Weston Broome. “I am extremely disappointed to be losing this anchor in our parish and we are going to examine very carefully the economic impact on the city and parish. But our priority now is to assist those affected by the layoff.”
Broome plans to convene a group of stakeholders today to begin working on helping displaced employees find jobs.
“I can think of hundreds right off that work there so it’s kind of a gut punch to those of us up here,” says West Feliciana Parish President Kenny Havard. “There’s not a lot here to begin with so to lose something like this a terrible thing that will affect the entire region.”
Baker Mayor Darnell Waites says he cannot estimate how many of his residents might be affected but he also was dismayed to hear of the closure.
“It’s always a shock when that many people are laid off at once,” Waites says. “I know it’s a business decision and I don’t want to judge but 650 people is a lot. They come from all over the area. I’m disappointed they will have to go through this.”
Company officials say the decision to close the facility, which has been in operation in Port Hudson since 1968 and owned by Georgia Pacific since 1969, was based purely on market factors.
“The use of copy and office paper has been on the decline for the past 15 years,” says Kelly Ferguson, the company’s senior director of public affairs and communication. “This is in no way a reflection on the employees at Port Hudson or the employees that work in the communications paper division.”
Georgia Pacific will continue to operate its consumer tissue and towel division at Port Hudson, which employs some 300 local workers. The company will use purchased pulp to make the products once the pulp mill is shut down.
Ferguson says the company will work with affected employees to try to find positions for them elsewhere in the company, though he could not say how many that might be or whether positions would be available for those laid off within the consumer tissue and towel division.
“We have just begun the process of communicating with our employees and the union leadership on how the process will work for employees affected by the job reductions, including the potential to transfer to other Georgia Pacific locations,” Ferguson says.
The Port Hudson paper mill is one of three Georgia Pacific facilities in Louisiana. A facility in West Monroe makes corrugated products, while the company has a lumber yard in DeQuincy.