Graphic Packaging plans to close its longtime downtown Battle Creek plant, which could send about 200 jobs out of town when it closes before August 2022.
After notifying its Battle Creek employees, Atlanta-based Graphic Packaging International notified the city on Feb. 17 of its intention to close the 350,000 square foot recycled paperboard plant by the end of the summer.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” the company said in a statement. “We recognize that the plant closures are very difficult for everyone involved, and we are committed to helping our affected employees over the coming months.”
In 2019, the company announced the development of a $600 million paper machine at its Kalamazoo plant, dubbed “K2”. The four-stage machine is now producing cardboard and, when fully operational, will produce 1,400 tonnes per day.
Graphic Packaging said the investment in Kalamazoo added 140 new workers to that location, including 650 currently employed by the company in Kalamazoo. The state-of-the-art K2 project was designed as “capacity neutral”, with production consolidated from its other plants, including Battle Creek.
Graphic Packaging said it provides “outplacement services” to its Battle Creek employees and will host job fairs for other positions within the company.
“There’s a concern every time we lose part of our employment base,” said Battle Creek Mayor Mark Behnke, who also cited the 2018 closure of the nearby TreeHouse Foods plant. “In two blocks, we’ve lost nearly 300 employees over the past three years, and those are good-paying jobs.”
Behnke said the loss of Graphic Packaging leaves “a huge void” as city leaders continue to seek to develop more employment opportunities. He also noted a silver lining with the plant closure, which has long frustrated motorists on Capital Avenue Southwest, where tractor-trailers at its loading docks block four lanes of traffic up to 30 times a day.
“At least the traffic bottleneck won’t be there anymore,” he said.
The paper mill, located on the banks of the Kalamazoo River at 79 E. Fountain St., has deep roots in Battle Creek as part of the city’s grain boom. The site originally housed the Michigan Carton Company, founded in 1907 with W. K. Kellogg as its first president.
The current warehouse dates from 1923. Michigan Carton Co. was acquired by St. Regis Paper Co. in 1974. This company was purchased by Field Container in 1984, which created the Michigan Carton Corp. subsidiaries. and Michigan Paperboard (later Altivity) before merging. with Graphic Packaging in 2008.
Graphic Packaging said the Battle Creek property will likely be sold for future commercial use.
The site will add to a growing list of available or soon to be available properties located in the commercial district along the “Cement River”, formerly the Bottoms district.
Since 2018, the area has seen the closure of TreeHouse Foods and the Pancake House, the closure and demolition of Kmart, as well as fires and demolitions at Village Inn Apartments and Econo Lodge.
Horrocks Farm Market intends to relocate to the former JCPenney Co. site at Lakeview Square Mall. Battle Creek Unlimited now owns the former Kmart site, while New Mill Capital has purchased and gutted the former TreeHouse Foods plant for future redevelopment.
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The town of Battle Creek is currently considering plans to naturalize the river’s concrete channel, which was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1961 as a flood control measure.
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at [email protected] or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley