Agency aims to en­tice Con­way plant to stay

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID SMITH

The Arkansas Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion is work­ing with lead­ers at Kim­berly-Clark Corp. to de­velop an in­cen­tive pack­age to try to keep the com­pany’s Con­way plant open, the com­mis­sion said Fri­day.

Kim­berly-Clark in­formed its em­ploy­ees in Con­way on Thurs­day and Fri­day that the com­pany is con­sid­er­ing clos­ing the mill, said Terry Bal­luck, a Kim­berly-Clark spokesman. The plant has about 350 work­ers.

“Kim­berly-Clark dis­cussed with its em­ploy­ees at Con­way the po­ten­tial for the fa­cil­ity to close based on meet­ing the chal­leng­ing ob­jec­tives of its global re­struc­tur­ing pro­gram,” Bal­luck said Fri­day. “At this time, the com­pany has not made a fi­nal de­ci­sion re­lated to this fa­cil­ity.”

Arkansas is eval­u­at­ing what it can do to keep the Con­way plant open, said Mike Pre­ston, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arkansas Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion. The state is work­ing with Con­way to de­cide what in­cen­tives could be of­fered to Kim­berly-Clark, Pre­ston said.

“We’re try­ing to come up with an as­sess­ment of what we think would be fair for the state, the com­mu­nity and for the tax­payer, but also en­tic­ing enough for the com-

pany to want to stay,” Pre­ston said.

Every­thing is on the ta­ble in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, said Jamie Gates, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Con­way Cham­ber of Com­merce.

“We’re go­ing to use every tool avail­able to com­pete for these jobs,” Gates said.

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son said it was dis­ap­point­ing to hear that Kim­berly-Clark is con­sid­er­ing clos­ing its Con­way fa­cil­ity.

“We want to as­sure our work­ers in Con­way and our cit­i­zens that we are do­ing every­thing we can to re­verse the com­pany’s de­ci­sion,” Hutchin­son said in a pre­pared state­ment. “Kim­berly-Clark has had a pres­ence in Con­way for al­most half a cen­tury and has in­vested heav­ily in the com­mu­nity there. The Con­way plant has his­tor­i­cally per­formed well, and the prod­ucts man­u­fac­tured here are likely to re­main in de­mand.”

Arkansas has ad­van­tages for Kim­berly-Clark, the gov­er­nor said.

“Arkansas is a right-towork state with lower costs of do­ing busi­ness than many states where [Kim­berly-Clark] has op­er­a­tions,” Hutchin­son said.

Kim­berly-Clark’s mill in Maumelle has not been tar­geted for pos­si­ble clo­sure, said Judy Keller, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of eco­nomic devel­op­ment in Maumelle. That plant has about 300 em­ploy­ees.

Irv­ing, Texas-based Kim­berly-Clark makes prod­ucts such as Kleenex, Scott, Hug­gies, Ko­tex and De­pend brands.

To lower costs world­wide, Kim­berly-Clark said in Jan­uary that it would elim­i­nate 5,000 to 5,500 jobs — about 12 per­cent to 13 per­cent of its em­ploy­ees — and close 10 plants by the end of 2020. Kim­berly-Clark ex­pects the re­struc­tur­ing to cost $1.7 bil­lion to $1.9 bil­lion and to af­fect the com­pany in all of its ma­jor global ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to its reg­u­la­tory fil­ings.

In late Jan­uary, Kim­berly-Clark said it would close two plants in Wis­con­sin, cut­ting 600 jobs. One is a sis­ter plant of the Con­way fa­cil­ity, mak­ing sim­i­lar prod­ucts, Pre­ston said.

The Wis­con­sin Leg­is­la­ture pro­posed an in­cen­tive

Kim­berly-Clark’s mill in Maumelle has not been tar­geted for pos­si­ble clo­sure, said Judy Keller, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of eco­nomic devel­op­ment in Maumelle. That plant has about 300 em­ploy­ees.

pack­age to en­sure the plants would re­main open. But the Leg­is­la­ture still has not passed the bill.

“With a large in­cen­tive deal and pres­sure from the [plant’s] unions, in­clud­ing a rene­go­ti­ated la­bor con­tract, [Kim­berly-Clark is] now con­sid­er­ing keep­ing the Wis­con­sin [plants] open and shut­ting the Con­way fa­cil­ity,” said Brandi Hin­kle, a spokesman for the state com­mis­sion.

But Kim­berly-Clark has not made a de­ci­sion about the Wis­con­sin plants, Pre­ston said.

Kim­berly-Clark has been in Con­way for about 50 years. It has been a part of the fab­ric of Con­way, said Con­way Mayor Bart Castle­berry.

“They are a vi­tal part of our com­mu­nity,” Castle­berry said. “Hope­fully they will con­tinue op­er­a­tions in our city well into the fu­ture.”

Shares of Kim­berly-Clark rose 49 cents to close Fri­day at $105.62 in trad­ing on the New York Stock Ex­change. The share price has lost about 13 per­cent of its value this year.

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