Mid­dle­ton plant to close by 2018

Job losses: Lim­er­ick plant em­ploys 280 Re­lo­ca­tion: Par­ent com­pany Al­tria plans to move op­er­a­tions to Rich­mond, Va.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Donna Rovins drovins@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Mer­cBiz on Twit­ter

Al­tria, the par­ent com­pany of John Mid­dle­ton, a cigar and pipe to­bacco plant in Lim­er­ick, an­nounced Thurs­day it will be clos­ing the plant and re­lo­cat­ing op­er­a­tions by early 2018.

Com­pany of­fi­cials be­gan no­ti­fy­ing the fa­cil­ity’s 280 em­ploy­ees about the plans on Thurs­day morn­ing.

The Lim­er­ick plant makes Black & Mild cigars, Mid­dle­ton’s Cherry Blend pipe to­bacco and other prod­ucts. John Mid­dle­ton’s op­er­a­tions will be moved to Al­tria’s man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­ter in Rich­mond, Va.

The John Mid­dle­ton plant is one of two fa­cil­i­ties Al­tria, the maker of Marl­boro cig­a­rettes, said it will close. The other fa­cil­ity, in Franklin Park, Ill., has 300 work­ers and makes Copen­hagen, Skoal and other smoke­less to­bacco prod­ucts.

Al­tria spokesman David Sut­ton said com­pany of­fi­cials were on-site at John Mid­dle­ton on Thurs­day to talk about the de­ci­sion.

“We have been hold­ing a se­ries of meet­ings with em­ploy­ees in Lim­er­ick start­ing with the first shift and then sub­se­quent shifts — to let em­ploy­ees know what is oc­cur­ring and how it will go through the first quar­ter of 2018. We’re talk­ing about what the process will be like and ben­e­fits if em­ploy­ees de­cide not to trans­fer,” Sut­ton said in an in­ter­view. “We hope as many em­ploy­ees as pos­si­ble will make the move to Rich­mond.”

Full-time work­ers that do not trans­fer will be given a

“We’re talk­ing about what the process will be like and ben­e­fits if em­ploy­ees de­cide not to trans­fer. We hope as many em­ploy­ees as pos­si­ble will make the move to Rich­mond.” – Al­tria spokesman David Sut­ton

min­i­mum of six months of sev­er­ance, in ad­di­tion to ben­e­fits and free job train­ing, ac­cord­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“We rec­og­nize that this is a big im­pact on the em­ploy­ees and their com­mu­ni­ties and want to make sure ev­ery­one had the chance to talk with com­pany lead­er­ship,” he added.

The com­pany did not say how many work­ers might ul­ti­mately be laid off from the Lim­er­ick fa­cil­ity, but Sut­ton added that the com­pany an­tic­i­pates a need for about 100 em­ploy­ees in the Rich­mond fa­cil­ity once the trans­fer is com­pleted. He said that cur­rent John

Mid­dle­ton em­ploy­ees will be given the op­por­tu­nity to make the move to Rich­mond or move to jobs at other Al­tria fa­cil­i­ties. He added that the po­si­tions in Rich­mond would in­clude both pre­dom­i­nantly hourly em­ploy­ees as well as some salaried op­por­tu­ni­ties.

As of mid­day Thurs­day, Lim­er­ick of­fi­cials said they had not re­ceived a for­mal no­tice from Al­tria about the clos­ing. An emailed re­sponse to the clos­ing on be­half of the Lim­er­ick Town­ship Board of Su­per­vi­sors and Town­ship Man­ager Daniel Kerr read, “The town­ship is, of course, sad­dened to hear the news pri­mar­ily for all those who will now lose their jobs. The John Mid­dle­ton or­ga­ni­za­tion has been a sta­ple within this town­ship

for many years and have been won­der­ful com­mu­nity part­ners. They have of­fered sup­port to our po­lice and vol­un­teer fire com­pa­nies and many other com­mu­nity-based groups.

“It is up­set­ting to lose a large man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tion; while it is too early to fully un­der­stand the fis­cal im­pact it may have on the town­ship, Lim­er­ick con­tin­ues to be a de­sired des­ti­na­tion for many busi­nesses. While the clos­ing of the John Mid­dle­ton plant is up­set­ting, we re­main con­fi­dent in the over­all vi­tal­ity of the Town­ship and hope those who are los­ing their jobs will be able to find em­ploy­ment lo­cally and re­main within our com­mu­nity,” the state­ment con­tin­ued.

The com­pany said the

clo­sures are ex­pected to be com­pleted by the first quar­ter of 2018 and would save Al­tria about $50 mil­lion by the end of that year.

“We’re con­stantly look­ing to max­i­mize ef­fi­cien­cies in our op­er­a­tions. It’s about look­ing to as­sess ways to stream­line and drive greater ef­fi­cien­cies. Now is the time to make th­ese moves,” Sut­ton added.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s web­site, John Mid­dle­ton founded the com­pany in 1856, when he opened a to­bacco shop in down­town Philadel­phia. In 1950, the com­pany be­gan man­u­fac­tur­ing some of its prod­ucts. In 1958, the re­tail op­er­a­tion was shut down as the com­pany shifted fo­cus com­pletely to man­u­fac­tur­ing at a fa­cil­ity in Philadel­phia.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing was moved to King of Prus­sia in 1960, and in 1998, the Lim­er­ick fa­cil­ity be­gan op­er­a­tion. In 2007, John Mid­dle­ton was ac­quired by Al­tria.

The com­pany’s Black & Mild brand of cigars is the sec­ond-largest sell­ing large ma­chine-made cigar in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion on the web­site. And in 2015, the com­pany’s to­tal re­tail share was 27.7 per­cent. Al­tria com­pa­nies’ em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing em­ploy­ees at the John Mid­dle­ton, par­tic­i­pate in an em­ploy­ee­funded char­i­ta­ble giv­ing pro­gram — the Al­tria Com­pa­nies Em­ployee Com­mu­nity Fund. In 2016, a to­tal of $235,000 in grants was dis­trib­uted to 15 non­prof­its in Penn­syl­va­nia, in­clud­ing sev­eral agen­cies in the tri-county area. The grants sup­port or­ga­ni­za­tions that fo­cus on hunger re­lief, youth and se­nior ser­vices, home­less­ness, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and emer­gency ser­vices.

John Mid­dle­ton’s leaf pro­cess­ing plant in King of Prus­sia was not part of the an­nounce­ment. Ac­cord­ing to Sut­ton, the plant has re­cently gone through “up­grades and mod­ern­iza­tion.”

Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment about the consolidations came as Al­tria, which also makes Vir­ginia Slims and Par­lia­ment cig­a­rettes, re­ported a 29 per­cent drop in profit for its most re­cent quar­ter, but its ad­justed earn­ings still beat ex­pec­ta­tions.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

An ex­te­rior shot of the John Mid­dle­ton man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity in Lim­er­ick. Op­er­a­tions at the fa­cil­ity, which em­ploys 280, will be re­lo­cated to Rich­mond, Va., by early 2018, it was an­nounced Thurs­day.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

A close-up shot of the large ma­chine-made cigar man­u­fac­tur­ing process taken at the John Mid­dle­ton fa­cil­ity in Lim­er­ick. The plant, which em­ploys 280, will be closed by early 2018 and op­er­a­tions moved to Vir­ginia.

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