Resolute to lay off 350, but McMinn County Mayor & company reps say it’s “not a sob story”

Companies are lining up to hire many of the 350 expecting to be laid off

 

If you’ve lived in the area for quite some time, you may not have heard of Resolute Forest Products. You may know them as Bowater. Today, the company announced it is shuttering its pulp and paper operations at its plant in Calhoun, resulting in the loss of 350 jobs.  But things might not be as bad as they sound.

Resolute’s plant in Calhoun was known for two things: its pulp and paper operations, and its tissue operations. For those that have lived in the area long enough, Resolute, or Bowater, was the largest producer of newspaper in the Western Hemisphere at one point. But those days are gone, as the internet has pushed aside newspapers. Resolute felt those losses to the tune of $62 million in the past 12 months, and now the reduction of 350 jobs just nine days before Christmas. County leaders and even company representatives say this isn’t a sob story.

McMinn County Mayor John Gentry: “I think a brighter day could be coming for those families. That’s how I choose to look at it. We’re going to look … This is the Christmas season. It is about hope, and so that’s what I’m going to tell those families. ‘Hey, a better day is coming. A door shuts. Other doors open.’ That’s the God I serve.”

Gentry isn’t just blowing smoke. According to him and Resolute company spokesperson Seth Kursman, there are 900 open jobs in McMinn County. Companies are lining up to hire many of the 350 expecting to be laid off by Resolute.

Gentry: “One thing about a Resolute employee – they are premier, highly skilled. They are highly valued. I envision bidding wars, perhaps, for their services. These are exactly the type of employees that our region is begging for right now.

The workforce reduction isn’t for a lack of trying by Resolute. The company invested $400 million into its pulp and paper operations over the last five years, but newsprint consumption in North America is down 85% since 2000. Kursman told me the company lost $62 million in the pulp and paper operations in the last year alone, and continuing it was “not going to be sustainable.” The Calhoun plant hasn’t produced newsprint for a number of years.

Resolute expects to file a $135 million non-cash impairment and accelerated depreciation charges for the fourth quarter of 2021. What is performing well is the tissue part of Resolute’s operations.

Gentry: We were, again, very fortunate to get the tissue plant. Hopefully, it will grow and replace some of those positions. So, hopefully, the net impact on employment will not be as staggering as it possibly could be.

Company spokesperson Seth Kursman told me Resolute invested $270 million into its tissue operations, and the type of tissue the Calhoun plant produces is your toilet paper and tissues you can get at the supermarket. Kursman said, “We’re committed to making the tissue-making business work for a long time. It’s good for us. It’s good for the workers, and it’s good for the community it supports.”

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