Georgia Pacific announced on yesterday plans to close most of their operation in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish. The closure of the plant will cause the region to lose nearly 700 jobs by the end of the first quarter of 2019. This is a huge blow to the local economy with the ability to impact other businesses, as well as the local school system in Zachary.
According to The Advocate, “The company said it will permanently shut down its office paper machines, converting assets, woodyard, pulp mill and most of its energy-generating complex in Port Hudson by mid-March. About 650 of the jobs being lost at the facility are in office paper and pulp assets, and about 40 more business and sales jobs are primarily in Atlanta where Georgia-Pacific is based.”
In reality, most of us could have predicted that at some point this was a possibility, though one we all dread. The impact is real and will be felt by hundreds of families in our parish. Here is the hard truth, this will hurt, if job placement can’t happen for all these families in a timely manner. Mortgage companies, credit card companies, and other bill collectors will still expect those impacted to pay them what is owed. Family trips and plans for these families are on hold, until a path forward can be mapped out.
Here is another hard truth, Baton Rouge has to stop relying on and attracting companies that will eventually die due to the normal evolutions in industry. While America is beginning to have conversations about green jobs, and tech jobs Baton Rouge and much of Louisiana is still relying too much on oil and gas when clean energy is the national conversation and paper mills in a digital age. We’ve got to diversify industry if we are going to effectively plan for the future.
While Georgia Pacific has been an anchor in this community for decades now, and the impact for families has been a great one. This isn’t something that was impossible to forecast, and we should begin forecasting what other companies have the potential to make the same decision in the coming years. Why should we forecast? To prepare for storms like this one.
We all recognize and understand that any company that isn’t profitable in a certain area will eventually close. That is the case with this Koch brothers owned company. The industry of paper is in decline. Every time I receive bank statement in the mail, I’m asked do I want to go to paperless billing, this is a sign of the times. One that we as a community have to begin to prepare for across the board.
In cities like Charlotte North Carolina, one of the fastest growing cities in the south, companies like Enviro-Master which is a business that provides commercial hygiene services is booming. AvidXchange, a leading provider of automated payments solutions for midsize companies, will expand its Charlotte, North Carolina, headquarters, creating 1,229 jobs and investing $41 million in Mecklenburg County. Pendo, a growing technology company founded in Raleigh, will more than triple its local operations over the next five years, adding 590 jobs and investing $34.5 million in Wake County according to The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. North Carolina is home to 14 Fortune 500 and 26 Fortune 1000 headquarters. The catch is, the companies locating in North Carolina are diverse in offerings. Which means the companies that support those companies are multifaceted as well.
We can’t always prevent something like this closure, but we should begin to take inventory of what we have in jobs and prepare. The times suggest that other closures like this in the paper industry will happen around the country over time. The same will eventually take place with oil and gas. It’s only a matter of time. The question is when, and what are we doing to prepare for when those days come? The way we prepare is simple, work to attract more of the future of industry and not the past.
Leaders in economic development and government in Baton Rouge have an obligation to the tax payers to begin the work of actively competing. The impact of losing Georgia Pacific will be real. Restaurant owners who workers supported will feel the pinch, as well as every other service business in the area. Zachary alone has 300 families that will be impacted by this closure. Three hundred people losing their job any where is a struggle, but in one small community it has the potential to be devastating.
A rapid response from local mayors and leaders is what is taking place, as it should. All hands are currently on deck to help these families. It is important for us a citizens at this point to push our leaders to actively engage new industry to help us prevent this level of loss in the future. Markets that are booming are diverse, we have to take note and prepare. We’ve got to become the place people come seeking work, like Charlotte and Dallas, not the place people leave because jobs are leaving.