ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County officials say Cascades Tissue Group’s decision to shift paper converting operations to neighboring Scotland County followed a prolonged recruitment effort to keep the 50-plus jobs here
County Manager Rick Sago said local leaders and state economic development officials negotiated with Cascades Inc. for two years in an effort to find a suitable site to expand the converting division’s Richmond County footprint when it outgrew its space in Cascades’ paper-manufacturing plant off Midway Road.
State and company officials on Monday announced that Cascades would move converting to a site in Wagram, creating about 60 new jobs. Roughly 50 to 60 jobs will be transferred from Rockingham to the new facility.
“Richmond County started working with local Cascades officials in the spring of 2012 and showed them the UCO building and the Hanesbrands building for a possible expansion,” Sago said.
“In December 2012, we received (a request for information) from an economic development consultant through the N.C. Department of Commerce under the name Project Smiley asking for buildings of at least 250,000-400,000 square feet with rail and greenfield sites also with rail,” he said. “The company name was not mentioned and it was not until later that we found out that Cascades was the company that was looking to expand.”
He said the UCO building was the only one that fit the requirements.
The following summer, the county “offered Cascades 35 acres of land at no cost and other incentives, including the incentives offered for the UCO building option at the Richmond County Industrial Park on the 74 bypass,” Sago said.
Hugo D’Amours, Cascades’ vice president of communications and public affairs, said the new facility had to be operation too early to consider constructing a new building.
Sago said the county continued to focus on the UCO building, shelling out $7,500 toward the cost of a building inspecting company — chosen by Cascades’ economic development consultant — to evaluate the physical integrity of the building.
In January of this year, Sago said Cascades officials met with the building owner but were unable to come to an agreement.
“Since no other buildings in Richmond County fit the company’s size requirements,” he said, “we again offered the land and incentives for the company to build a new building in the industrial park. Unfortunately again, timing was an issue.”
D’Amours acknowledges that county officials were “very helpful.”
“Richmond County has a reputation of being very aggressive when it comes to working with and offering incentives for new and expanding industries and we were very aggressive on this project as well,” said Kenneth Robinette, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners. “Unfortunately in this instance, factors outside of our control steered this project to another location.”
“We needed an existing building,” D’Amours said. “There was nothing of that size we could use in Richmond County.”
He said the site in Wagram is more than 1 million square feet with space to expand.
“We were looking at different sites all across the southeastern United States,” he said.
D’Amours said the decision to relocate to Wagram was designed to keep the company as close to Rockingham as possible for logistics purposes.
He said the current facility has grown too small to house both the paper producing operations and paper converting operations.
The converting operations facility breaks down the jumbo rolls from the production facility into smaller items, like tissue, toilet paper and napkins, he said.
D’Amours said those currently working in converting operations will gradually transfer to the new facility — which will be the second-largest converting operation in the U.S. — and the company will hire another 60-plus employees as the facility expands.
He added that the Rockingham employees were among the best in the company.
“If we had chosen another state, there would’ve been job loss,” he said. “For the employees and the local economy, it’s good news.”
“We are all very disappointed that this project did not happen in Richmond County, but we were very aggressive and tried as hard as we could to make it happen,” Sago said, citing help from Sen. Gene McLaurin, Rep. Ken Goodman and Richmond Community College. “Two years’ worth of very hard work went into trying to land this project and it is always disappointing when it doesn’t happen.”
Sago said the county has around five development projects that are considered “very active.”
“We try to bring in as much (industry) as we can,” Sago said. “Most of the time, we rely on existing companies expanding and proposed industrial or manufacturing, distribution projects leads that we get from the Department of Commerce, the North Carolina’s Southeast Partnership, our utilities and economic development consultants.”
In the past five years, the county has announced a total of 11 projects: five new and five expansion projects, with Specialty Yarns listed as both.
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.