Officials of food packaging company Pactiv Evergreen unexpectedly announced the closure of its Canton, North Carolina paper mill. The said mill, which has been operating since 1908, will be closed in three months' time. News of the permanent closure – which will eliminate 1,100 jobs – was delivered during a March 6 closed-door meeting.
Byron Racki, Pactiv Evergreen's president of beverage merchandising, told a group of about 40 salaried employees that the decision to close the Canton mill had only been made the week before. He mentioned that the closure was "almost exclusively a reflection of the market conditions, along with the capital costs that would be needed to upgrade the Canton facility."
Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers said he was "numb" and "heartbroken" when the news of the paper mill's closure broke out.
"I'm heartbroken for the men and women who will go home tonight and tell their spouses and children that they won't have a job soon. There are no words," the mayor lamented, likening the closure to "taking a piece of the town's soul." (Related: Another major U.S. steel plant to close after more than a century in operation, further depleting country's manufacturing capacity.)
"There's nothing more that I can do than mourn and stand by the workers of [Pactiv] Evergreen. Seeing grown men cry is not what I was expecting."
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper agreed with the mayor, tweeting: "This is a shocking, cruel blow to families who have depended for years on wages and business from Canton Mills." He added that his office had talked with Smathers and that his administration "is all in to help find solutions and create new opportunities" for the town.
However, the decision to close the North Carolina paper mill appeared to have been premeditated – as most executives of the company sold tens of thousands of shares earlier.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings revealed that Pactiv Evergreen officials sold more than 50,000 shares of stock on March 2, four days before the paper mill's closure was announced. At the time of sale, the shares had a price of $11.30 each – but has since fallen to below $10.
Racki sold 4,093 shares for $46,250.90, followed by Chief Legal Officer Chandra Mitchell selling 5,613 shares for $63,426.90. Pactiv Evergreen COO Douglas Owensby sold 3,969 shares for $44,849.70, while CEO Michael King had the biggest sale – 45,113 shares for $509,776.
All in all, the four executives sold 58,788 shares for a total amount of $664,303.50.
A spokesperson for the company defended the filings, telling Fox Business in a statement that the share sales were "automatically done by the company to cover legally required tax withholding." They denied allegations that the sales made by the executives were discretionary.
Lorri Wickenhauser, associate story editor for the Western Journal, called the closure of the paper mill as a sign of a "lousy" economy under the Biden administration.
"Any time a company mentions 'exploring strategic alternatives' regarding your workplace … you'd be wise to start updating your resume," she wrote.
"The Biden administration has been telling us, again and again, how great the economy is doing and how well its plan is working. And yet, companies both large and small continue to announce massive layoffs. It's hard to reconcile all these reports of downsizing with government statements assuring us that jobs are being added all the time."
Wickenhauser ultimately warned that until Biden steps down, "America's prospects – economic and otherwise – are depressingly bleak."
Watch this news report about 12 major job cuts announced in February.
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