WestRock Co. announced a reconfiguration of its North Charleston paper mill Monday that will eliminate of 260 jobs in the first half of next year at one of the region's oldest industrial employers.
The Norcross, Ga.-based packaging firm said it will shut down one of the three paper machines at the Virginia Avenue site to reduce annual linerboard capacity by about 288,000 tons. Job reductions will start in January and will continue over a five-month period.
"We understand that this reconfiguration will impact our employees, their families and the community," WestRock CEO Steve Voorhees said in a statement. "Our teams are working to provide support and resources to our employees and their families as we move forward."
The North Charleston mill currently employs about 900 workers.
The United Steelworkers union, which represents some of the workers at the mill, called WestRock's decision "regrettable" and said it hopes the company will rethink the layoffs.
"The USW will continue to fight on behalf of all our members, including ensuring their fair treatment through the effects bargaining process," said Daniel Flippo, the union's District Nine director. "We will also do everything we can to help facilitate their return to work.”
The job losses would be the largest announced this year in the Charleston area, but not statewide. TFE Logistics in Spartanburg recently said it will lay off a combined 1,475 workers at two Adidas distribution centers by the end of October.
WestRock said the reconfiguration will boost the company's annual earnings before taxes and other costs by approximately $40 million.
The reconfigured mill’s production capacity will total roughly 605,000 tons per year, consisting of three grades: kraft linerboard; KraftPak, an unbleached folding carton kraft paper; and DuraSorb, a saturating kraft paper used for decorative laminate and industrial uses.
"The actions that we are taking at our North Charleston mill will substantially improve the long-term competitiveness of the mill by reducing our ongoing operating costs and capital needs ..." Voorhees said in a statement. "Reducing the production of linerboard at this mill will help balance our supply with customer demand across our system."
WestRock reported revenues of $13.6 billion and operating income of $1 billion for the first nine months of fiscal 2019, a period that ended June 30. That represents increases of 13 percent and 31 percent, respectively, from the same period a year ago.
The company's stock price was up about 2.5 percent in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq exchange.
WestRock acquired the North Charleston mill last year when it bought KapStone Paper and Packaging Corp. in a deal valued at $4.9 billion. In addition to the landmark North Charleston paper mill, which opened in 1937 on the Cooper River, WestRock's global operations include plants in Florence, Latta and Spartanburg.
WestRock spun off its North Charleston chemical business, now known as Ingevity Corp., into a standalone publicly traded business in 2016.