Tobacco company to lay off 565

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A tobacco company is laying off 565 employees as processing operations are moved from Farmville to Wilson.

“We recognize the impact this decision will have on our employees, their families and the Farmville community, and are committed to helping those impacted as we consolidate our tobacco processing operations,” said Herbert Weatherford, Alliance One International’s regional director of North and Central America. “We are focused on the success of the U.S. tobacco industry, our contracted farmers and driving strategy and long-term sustainability to the U.S. market.”

Alliance One, a Pyxus International company, notified the N.C. Department of Commerce on Nov. 7 about the planned changes that would affect 182 general labor employees, 156 pickers and sweepers as well as a variety of clerks, operators and drivers. The change is set to take effect by next September.

“Although the entire plant is not closing, and some operations will continue, regular tobacco processing operations will no longer be conducted at our Farmville facility after the 2018 season,” the notification states. “We expect this change to be permanent and as a result, a significant number of our employees will be affected.”

Seasonal employees are slated to be laid off on Jan. 7 with many receiving a paid leave of absence from early December through the layoff date. Alliance One spokeswoman Elizabeth Haggerty said employees will be notified in the near future.

“We are still evaluating over the next month or so the business opportunities at the Wilson plant to ensure the business is sufficiently and effectively staffed,” Haggerty said. “We anticipate some jobs will shift from Farmville to Wilson and are working as quickly as possible to identify as many employees to transition to Wilson.”

The consolidation is expected to increase efficiencies for the company, but Haggerty said the Farmville facility will be repurposed. The Wilson facility has three processing lines and reportedly can accommodate the Farmville operations in addition to the current operations.

“The tobacco industry is continuing. Tobacco will still be grown and the facility here in Wilson has room to process more than it has been processing, so it is not going away,” said Jennifer Lantz, executive director for Wilson Economic Development. “Cigarette smoking has declined over the years, but it has increased in other countries, so more of the tobacco grown here is exported than 30 years ago.”

Lantz said Alliance One is one of Wilson’s top 20 employers in terms of full-time staff alone and in the top 10 when seasonal employees are considered with roughly 530 employees. It is unclear how many of the Farmville employees will be able to transition to the Wilson facility, but N.C. Department of Commerce Communications Director David Rhoades said the department’s workforce team and rapid response unit are assisting.

Pyxus made headlines in September when a new North Carolina-based industrial hemp processor announced a partnership. Criticality plans to invest $17.3 million to renovate a 55,000 square-foot facility and employ 88 people in the first five years of operation.

“We truly want to support them in any way we can and have worked both with Criticality and Alliance One on the new processing facility,” Lantz said. “We applaud their diversification given the climate for tobacco within our country today. I think they are being incredibly smart.”