CANTON, N.C. (WSPA) – Canton, a small town in Haywood County, is known as the ‘paper town.’ The 115-year-old paper mill is visible from almost any angle. Now, as the paper mill is set to close for good, the community said they’re not sure what will happen.
“I cannot imagine life without the mill,” said Edie Burnette.
Like many others, 86-year-old Edie Burnette said the paper mill has always been a part of her life. She said for families in Canton, it was the career passed down from generation to generation.
“I have a picture of my grandmother here from 1936 working in the office, and she was the chairman for 36 years, and I have a picture of my grandfather, who started in 1932, he moved from Franklin, North Carolina to Canton to find work,” said George Stephens.
“It just provided jobs, education, but the history of knowing that I worked right where my grandpa did, and my daddy, we went to the old timers parties together once I hit that 25-year mark,” said Beth Gray.
Closing hits hard
While it may look like this is only devastating to the locals, it impacts the entire region.
The county said the ripple effects are estimated to be close to $500 million. They said it has, and is expected to continue to shut down businesses, like those in the logging industry, many of which are in the Upstate.
According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, town mayor Zeb Smathers said after learning of the planned summer shutdown of the paper mill he contacted North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Rep. Chuck Edwards to ask for assistance.
Efforts to save the mill from closure ultimately failed.
Blaire Bishop, a Haywood County forester, said 100,000 trucks of wood come through the paper mill each year, with about half of those being from the Upstate.
“This mill is a center point to our industry, and really in fostering sustainable forestry management as well,” said Bishop.
For most workers, the loss means entering a job market they have not experienced in decades.
Haywood County community college president Shelly White said for the past few months, she’s been tackling this side of the problem.
“As soon as we found out about the upcoming closure we started working with our community partners on things like job fairs and helping workers brush up resumes and online job search and things like that,” said White.
Moving forward, residents said while this is heartbreaking, they know they’ll come out of this stronger and closer than ever before.
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“Mountain people are pretty tough and in one way or another I think that we’ll survive,” said Burnette.
“It’s a sad day here in Canton, North Carolina but through grit and grace we’re all going to survive,” said Stephens.
While production at the mill stopped Wednesday, the mill will officially shut down on June 9.