Mill jobs idled as business slowed

142 workers cut for three months

A paper manufacturer in Ashdown said Monday it will idle 142 workers because of "unforeseeable business conditions" brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Domtar Corp., whose U.S. headquarters is in South Carolina, said it will shut down its A62 paper machine at its Ashdown mill for three months.

"The covid-19 pandemic is having a negative impact on communication paper demand, with offices, businesses and schools still closed in a large part of our markets," John Williams, Domtar's president and chief executive officer, said in a news release.

Domtar also said 304 workers at its mill in Kingsport, Tenn., will lose their jobs temporarily. The temporary shutdown will reduce Domtar's uncoated freesheet paper production capacity by about 144,000 tons over the three months, the company said.

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"Given the evolving market conditions, we are taking the appropriate steps to optimize our operations, which will ensure that we remain an agile, reliable partner to our customers," Williams said. "We regret the impact these temporary shutdowns will have on our Kingsport and Ashdown employees and their families, and we are doing everything we can to support them during this time."

Domtar on Oct. 3, 2019, announced it would permanently close and immediately shut down a paper machine at the same Ashdown plant, resulting in 79 workers losing their jobs at one of the area's largest employers. That left some 750 workers at the plant, an employment anchor in Little River County since it opened in 1968, a Domtar spokesman said at the time.

Domtar bought the Ashdown plant in 2001 from Georgia-Pacific Corp.

"Domtar is working with the USW [United Steelworkers] local leadership and are committed to do everything we can to support our impacted employees and their families at this difficult time," Tammy Waters, a Domtar spokeswoman in Ashdown, said Monday.

Last week, Anthony Timberlands Inc. said it would cut production at pine-lumber mills in Bearden and Malvern by half, resulting in about 200 employees being furloughed. Each mill will now run one shift, down from two.

Max Braswell, executive vice president of the Arkansas Forestry Association, said Monday Anthony Timberlands and Domtar are the only closings or shutdowns that he's aware of so far. "I would think a lot of places are re-thinking their operations and schedules," he said. "As things continue throughout the year we'd certainly expect similar announcements."

Business on 04/07/2020