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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Paper mill that defines small NC mountain town is closing

Interior of a paper mill.
Dávid Lehoczki
Interior of a paper mill.

It's time now for BizWorthy, our weekly look at Charlotte area business news. This week, though, we're changing it up a bit and starting with a story in the small town of Canton, which is just outside Asheville. A paper mill that first opened there more than a hundred years ago is closing, laying off about 900 workers. To put that in perspective, Canton's population is about 4,400. For more, we turn now to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: OK, Tony, so why is this paper mill closing after more than a century?

Tony Mecia: Marshall, this is the Pactiv Evergreen mill. It's changed hands a lot of times over the years, gone by many different names, and the company that runs it says that it needs to close it in order to consolidate its operations, become more efficient. It's probably not too surprising that an old mill might not be as efficient as, you know, a newer mill. The company is closing it, like you said, more than 900 job losses connected to it. This is a small town west of Asheville. This is one of the biggest layoffs really in the last decade in North Carolina. There was a distribution center in Rocky Mount a couple of years ago that had a fire, laid off about 1,800 people. That's the only one that I could find that was bigger in recent memory. You know, we used to have these mill closures a lot more when there were a lot more mills. You know, the textile and furniture industries downsized pretty significantly starting in the late '90s for another 15 years or so. Manufacturing employment has mostly stabilized since then, but you still do see some of these mill closures from time to time. Obviously, you're going to have a big effect there in Canton.

Terry: Well, this situation reminds me of those mill closings that you're speaking about that happened decades ago. Pillowtex closing in Kannapolis and, and how the textile mill towns around Charlotte were hit by those closures. Not surprising when a large business like this dominates a small town. You report that this mill really became an integral part of Canton's identity. How is Canton defined by this mill?

Mecia: Yeah. Our reporter Lindsey Banks spent a bunch of time there and really found the mill is, as you might expect, it's right near the downtown. It's really central to the town's identity. The town is known as "Papertown." There was a bluegrass song about "Papertown" referring to Canton. There's Papertown Billiards and Papertown Coffee. The mill's image is on the local church logos. The high school football team has images of the mill on its football uniforms. A lot of people obviously, you know, work there, had relatives who work there, you know, from previous generations. So, you know, like a lot of places, it's really sort of the town's identity is really caught up in the mill. And so now without the mill, sort of, what happens? That's kind of the big question. Some of the folks I talked to suggest that it might be all right, given that they're not that far from Asheville, which is growing. But certainly a pretty tough blow for that part of North Carolina.

Terry: Bringing it back to Charlotte now. City Council members this week discussed three new proposals for part of the old Eastland Mall site. They include a tennis center, a swimming complex and a Target. I feel like I've heard so many different proposals for Eastland over the years. How likely is one of these to happen, and what role are public subsidies likely to play?

Mecia: Well, the City Council does want something else in there. Now, there is construction going on right now on a residential component. So that is happening. If you drive by Eastland Mall, you will see that they're moving dirt, they're getting the ground ready, and there are supposed to be some, you know, residential units coming up there next year. What we're talking about here with the tennis and the possible swimming or Target is on a smaller section of Eastland. You'll recall, Marshall, originally Charlotte FC was slated to go there and open up its practice facility there. They decided not to do that, so that really opened the door to some other possibilities. And the city has received three proposals. They don't really seem happy with any of them. They're worried that the swimming and tennis proposals are going to cost too much taxpayer money, and they don't like the Target because they would like to get some sort of an athletic complex in there. So they decided this week to reopen the proposals and see if there are any other proposals out there, other possibilities for that site. The city's been working on this for a number of years to try to get something happening there. And I wouldn't count it as being done until you actually see the construction happening for it. And, Marshall, as far as the public subsidies go, the city does seem as though it's willing to put in some public money in the form of hospitality, money that has to be spent for tourism-related purposes. But a lot of council members this week said that some of the proposals that called for up to $45 million, they thought that that was a little bit too much.

Terry: Well, sticking with development for a moment, you report that it seems a big tower is about to get underway on Morehead Street near uptown. Is this the project that prompted the Midnight Diner's relocation?

Mecia: It is. We've had a lot of proposals for towers in South End and the uptown area. It's really now a question of what is going to be built. And this project is called the Queensbridge Collective Project by Riverside Investment and Development of Chicago. They're proposing two towers, an office tower and a residential tower on the site of the old Midnight Diner and what is currently Uptown Cabaret, which my understanding is still in operation. This project received building permits in the last couple of weeks to start construction on it. So construction hasn't started yet, but it looks like it's going to be headed that way. As we talked about before, Marshall, office towers are kind of tough to build right now with the hybrid work environment and financing environment. So it looks like it might just be the residential tower that's going to get built at the moment. But, you know, we will see what happens and when the construction starts. The company told me that they don't have a groundbreaking date set yet, but they expect to announce something in the next few weeks.

Support for WFAE's BizWorthy comes from UNC Charlotte's Belk College of Business, Sharon View Federal Credit Union and our listeners.


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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.