Philip Mor­ris sus­pends S. Rich­mond oper­a­tion af­ter 2nd con­firmed case

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - Front Page - BY JOHN REID BLACK­WELL Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch jblack­well@times­dis­ (804) 775-8123

FRI­DAY, MARCH 20, 2020

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Cig­a­rette maker Philip Mor­ris USA, one of the Rich­mond re­gion’s largest em­ploy­ers, has sus­pended op­er­a­tions at its South Rich­mond man­u­fac­tur­ing plant af­ter a sec­ond em­ployee tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus.

The com­pany, a sub­sidiary of Hen­rico Coun­ty­based to­bacco giant Al­tria Group Inc., said it ex­pects to stop op­er­a­tions at the plant for two weeks “out of an abun­dance of cau­tion af­ter learn­ing [Wed­nes­day] night that a sec­ond PM USA em­ployee tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19.”

Al­tria had dis­closed on Wed­nes­day that one Philip Mor­ris USA em­ployee tested pos­i­tive and was “ac­tively re­cov­er­ing and feel­ing well in self-quar­an­tine at home.”

The com­pany said em­ploy­ees who had come into con­tact with that in­di­vid­ual were also asked to stay at home for 14 days.

The sus­pen­sion of op­er­a­tions at the Philip Mor­ris USA plant is at least the sec­ond ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Vir­ginia to an­nounce a tem­po­rary halt to pro­duc­tion be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

On Wed­nes­day, Goodyear Tire & Rub­ber Co. an­nounced it was stop­ping pro­duc­tion at its plant in Danville un­til at least April 3, the Danville Reg­is­ter & Bee re­ported.

Goodyear is Danville’s largest em­ployer with about 2,000 work­ers. It has about 63,000 em­ploy­ees around the world.

Al­tria said it will con­tinue to pay em­ploy­ees reg­u­lar base wages dur­ing the two-week sus­pen­sion, and will “eval­u­ate pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional pay con­tin­u­a­tion be­yond that time­frame as needed.”

Al­tria spokesman David Sut­ton said the com­pany is not dis­clos­ing the ex­act num­ber of em­ployee at the fac­tory, but the firm has about 3,300 em­ploy­ees in the Rich­mond area. Its op­er­a­tions in the re­gion in­clude the cig­a­rette man­u­fac­tur­ing plant off In­ter­state 95, its cor­po­rate head­quar­ters on West Broad Street in Hen­rico and a re­search cen­ter in down­town Rich­mond.

Most of Al­tria’s of­fice em­ploy­ees have been work­ing re­motely from home this week.

Al­tria said it be­lieves it has suf­fi­cient cig­a­rette in­ven­tory for about two months based on es­ti­mated ship­ping vol­ume, in ad­di­tion to whole­sale and re­tail in­ven­to­ries.

“We are com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing the safety and well-be­ing of our em­ploy­ees, con­trac­tors, their fam­i­lies and the com­mu­ni­ties where we op­er­ate,” said Billy Gif­ford, Al­tria’s vice chair­man and chief financial of­fi­cer, in a state­ment. “We take the threat of COVID-19 se­ri­ously and have been ac­tively im­ple­ment­ing plans to min­i­mize busi­ness dis­rup­tions and their po­ten­tial im­pact to our em­ploy­ees, con­sumers and cus­tomers.”

A re­port to in­vestors by in­dus­try an­a­lysts at in­vest­ment bank Stifel Financial Corp. says Al­tria “was proac­tively build­ing in­ven­to­ries ahead of this shutdown to limit the im­pact of a po­ten­tial dis­rup­tion, a pru­dent move that should limit the costs as­so­ci­ated with the down time.”

Philip Mor­ris USA opened its cig­a­rette man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in South Rich­mond in 1973.

The nearly 2 mil­lion­square-foot man­u­fac­tur­ing plant on Com­merce Road is Philip Mor­ris USA’s only cig­a­rette plant and pro­duces about half of all cig­a­rettes con­sumed in the United States, in­clud­ing the top-sell­ing cig­a­rette brand, Marlboro. The com­pany has an al­most 50% share of the U.S. re­tail cig­a­rette mar­ket.

Al­tria also said it is sus­pend­ing some do­mes­tic op­er­a­tions for its ci­gar and pipe to­bacco sub­sidiary John Mid­dle­ton for two weeks “due to COVID19 re­lated sup­ply chain con­straints.”

The Mid­dle­ton busi­ness has op­er­a­tions in Rich­mond and King of Prus­sia, Pa., and con­tract sup­pli­ers in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. The King of Prus­sia fa­cil­ity is run­ning at lim­ited ca­pac­ity, a spokesman said. The com­pany said it be­lieves the Mid­dle­ton busi­ness has suf­fi­cient fin­ished ci­gar in­ven­tory for about three months.

Al­tria an­nounced ear­lier this week it had closed “for the fore­see­able fu­ture” all of the re­tail stores the com­pany re­cently opened to sell its iQOS prod­uct, a de­vice mar­keted as an al­ter­na­tive to cig­a­rettes that heats to­bacco in­stead of burn­ing it. The clo­sures in­clude a Rich­mond store in Cary­town that opened in Novem­ber.


Philip Mor­ris USA’s cig­a­rette plant in South Rich­mond is tem­po­rar­ily halt­ing op­er­a­tions.

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