WAGRAM — Robeson County residents in search of manufacturing work may want to look to Scotland County.
With the recent purchase of the former WestPoint Home plant on Airbase Road in Wagram by Cascades Tissue Group, 68 new jobs will be brought to the facility by the end of 2015, Gov. Pat McCrory announced last week during a visit to the site.
Cascades, a manufacturer of recycled paper goods, will open at least one of the six production lines planned for the Wagram plant by the end of this year, and will ultimately employ close to 130 people there. Of those, 60 will be transferred from the company’s Richmond County plant.
“Cascades is expanding its presence here in the Southeast, one of the fastest-growing markets in the United States,” said Suzanne Blanchet, outgoing President and CEO of Cascades Tissue Group. “… This investment is to build one of the most modern converting plants in North America.”
Headquartered in Kingsey Falls, Quebec, Cascades is expected to invest $55 million in the plant during the next three years in addition to the installation of $7 million in equipment. The addition of a Scotland County facility will enable the company to maintain its Rockingham operation, the site of its first expansion into the United States in 1983.
“This is just a perfect situation for Scotland County and for Richmond County because it keeps the Richmond County plant open while also expanding here when, in fact, they could have easily moved to Georgia or some other states that we’re competing against,” McCrory said.
The Wagram facility will become the second-largest paper conversion plant in North America, creating bath tissue, facial napkins, kitchen towels, and other products from the jumbo paper rolls manufactured in Rockingham and in other U.S. plants.
“We wanted to expand and our building in Rockingham was too small,” Blanchet said. “We have a large customer in the Southeast and instead of bringing the product from Pennsylvania or another state we said we need to be closer because freight doesn’t add any value.”
Much of Cascades’ production is for private labels, with clients including Walmart, Walgreens, and Family Dollar as well as restaurant and hotel chains. The Wagram plant is projected to eventually produce around 10 million cases of end-user products annually.
WestPoint Home closed the bulk of its Wagram operation in early 2007, with distribution continuing there until 2013.
Cascades representatives first visited the site in July 2013. The company also considered sites in Nashville, Tenn. and Atlanta, searching for a facility in excess of 800,000 square feet.
Of the new jobs to be offered by Cascades in Wagram, many will be machine operator positions, with some engineering and mechanic jobs as well. Annual payroll for the new positions will be around $3.2 million, with an average wage of $20 per hour.
According to Greg Icard, Scotland County’s economic developer, the age of the 1.2 million-square-foot building, the oldest parts of which were constructed in the 1960s, and its suitability for Cascades’ needs were concerns while recruiting the company.
“At the end of the day these are very high-wage jobs, and this plant will be utilized again and they’re going to take care of it and do some things that wouldn’t have been done otherwise,” Icard said.
Cascades plans to hire 25 workers by November, according to plant manager Eric Taylor. Expectations for those employees, Taylor said, will be “fairly high,” with experience in manufacturing and ability to work with automated systems topping the list of requirements.
Depending on its job creation and investment performance in the next three to five years, Cascades stands to receive some $6.4 million in government incentives.
“Cascades is beginning work to revitalize a facility that in decades past was home to our county’s largest employer, and we’re excited that a company with the reputation of Cascades has chosen to make this their home,” said Guy McCook, chairman of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners. “We believe that your choice to invest in our community says a lot about us.”