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UPDATE: International Paper to Close Paper Mill in Courtland

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COURTLAND, Ala. (WHNT) - International Paper has announced it will close its paper mill in Lawrence County.

The mill is the county's largest employer.  It will shut down in stages, with the full closure expected to be complete by the end of the first quarter of 2014.  The closure affects 1,100 employees.  They learned the news at a staff meeting Wednesday morning, according to an employee who called WHNT News 19.

"These decisions are especially difficult because of the impact to long-serving and hard-working employees, their families and the surrounding communities," said John Faraci, International Paper Chairman and CEO.  "This decision to permanently close capacity is primarily being driven by demand decline for uncoated freesheet paper products in the United States."

In Courtland, news of the closure spread quickly on Wednesday morning.  Community leaders say most if not all residents will be directly or indirectly impacted by the closure.

According to International Paper, the operation was directly responsible for $328 million worth of economic impact in the area last year.  The Courtland mill's annual payroll is almost $86 million and is responsible for approximately $3.5 million in property taxes, according to a fact sheet the company provided.

The Courtland mill makes papers for forms, envelopes, labels, copiers, printers and magazines.  The rise of electronic devices in recent years, and fewer people ordering magazines and mailing bills has simply led to less of this paper being used.

International Paper said it is committed to helping the employees impacted by the closure. The company said it will work closely with union officials concerning benefits and other assistance programs for impacted hourly employees. Salaried employees impacted by these machine shutdowns will be eligible for severance packages and outplacement assistance consistent with company policy. Employee assistance providers will be available to support employee and family needs.

International Paper said it will focus on uncoated freesheet, bristols and specialty paper markets in four paper mills, located in Eastover, S.C., Riverdale, Ala., Georgetown, S.C. and Ticonderoga, N.Y.

The company said its fluff pulp business is not impacted by Wednesday's announcement.

For a list of resources available to paper mill employees, including a link to a job fair, click here.