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Canton mill to close, leaving hundreds jobless

Historic picture of the Canton Mill at the Canton History museum.
Lilly Knoepp
Historic picture of the Canton Mill at Canton Area Historical Museum.

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

The Town of Canton is reeling after Monday’s announcement by Pactiv Evergreen to soon shut down operations at the paper mill, the town’s largest employer.

The Haywood County mill, which has beenin operation under multiple owners since 1908, employs around more than 1,200 people. The majority work at the main plant in Canton, with the remaining few hundred employed at a satellite facility in Waynesville. 

The company expects to close its Canton mill by the end of June and is considering alternatives for the Waynesville facility, according to a company statement to BPR.    

Pactive Evergreen said the decision is part of a "significant restructuring actions related to its Beverage Merchandising operation."

It is too early to put a dollar amount on the impact of the closure for the town or the region, Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers said.

“There is no one waiting in the wings. There is no imminent sale,” he said. “This is not a bargaining move. This is a closure.”

While the closure will impact Canton and Haywood County, the mill is a regional employer, Smathers said, citing data from the Land of Sky Regional Council that 40 percent of mill employees live in Buncombe County.

Evergreen announced a scale back plan for the Canton Facility - but Monday’s news of a shutdown came as a surprise. It is a time of grief for the town, Smathers said.

“We are in a state of shock and numbness. And yesterday when I saw a grown man with tears in his eyes - there will be a lot of conversation about what's next,” Smathers said.

The ramifications of the closure go beyond the economic, he said. This morning as he drove his son to school, his son delighted in hearing the morning train whistle.

“The idea that my son – ninth generation Smathers – will not have any memory of a place that has existed longer than anyone on this earth currently is absolutely heartbreaking,” Smathers said.

The people of Haywood County will need assistance during this time. He is in conversation with local and state politicians such as Governor Roy Cooper about the needs of the community.

“This stretches across the state, and therefore it's going to take a full court press to assist the people that need it right now,” he said.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
Laura Lee began her journalism career as a producer and booker at NPR. She returned to her native North Carolina to manage The State of Things, a live daily statewide show on WUNC. After working as a managing editor of an education journalism start-up, she became a writer and editor at a national education publication, Edutopia. She then served as the news editor at Carolina Public Press, a statewide investigative newsroom. In 2022, she worked to build collaborative coverage of elections administration and democracy in North Carolina.

Laura received her master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and her bachelor’s degree in political science and J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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