Cup plant to close amid $145M Dixie expansion
By Bobby Bryant
Georgia-Pacific has revealed the secret of “Project Peach,” and it means good news and bad news for Darlington’s huge Dixie plant.
The good news: Georgia-Pacific is investing more than $145 million to expand and modernize its operations for manufacturing paper plates and paper bowls.
The bad news: The company is shutting down its cup-making plant here – the plant so well-known that most Darlington residents refer to the entire facility as “Dixie Cup.”
“The investment at Darlington will not create new jobs, but will modernize and expand the plate and bowl capacity of the facility,” Georgia-Pacific announced in a press release.
Referring to the 80 or so employees whose jobs will end with the closing of the cup-making plant, Georgia-Pacific said: “During the coming months, Georgia-Pacific will work with affected employees on transitions to roles in plate operations, other opportunities within GP or other Koch companies or opportunities outside of the company.”
Total employment at the Darlington facility is about 500 people, said company spokesman Tom Strother.
The deal is “wonderful for the city,” said Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd – except for the fact that the plate-making plant will be shut down. But hopefully, Boyd said, many of those employees will be able to find jobs in other divisions of the Dixie complex.
The expansion will begin in March with a targeted completion of first quarter 2022. “During this time,” Georgia-Pacific said, “the plate plant will continue to operate. Over time, the site will add new machinery, including a new plate printing press. A new, modern warehouse also will be part of the expansion.”
“This truly is an investment in our customers and consumers who use our products and value the Dixie brand,” said David Duncan, executive vice president for Georgia-Pacific’s Consumer Products Group. “The demand for our plates and bowls continues to grow as consumers value the Dixie brand’s unique combination of convenience and performance.”
Abraham Adkins, plant director for the Darlington Dixie operations, said in the company’s news release: “This is an exciting investment for our employees and our community. It will transform the Darlington plant into a modern and competitive operation.”
The cup-making plant is expected to close “by September,” and its current distribution center is to close “sometime in 2021.” Georgia-Pacific said its cup customers “will continue to be served from Georgia-Pacific Dixie plants in Lexington, Ky., and Lehigh Valley, Pa.”
“All of the future Darlington operations will be clustered on the Old Florence Road property, using the existing plate operation as the building block for the expansion,” the company said.
The announcement last week resolves the mystery of “Project Peach,” the code name under which local governments have been discussing the Georgia-Pacific expansion plan for at least a year.
On Feb. 12, 2019, Darlington City Council, after a half-hour executive session, voted to sell a total of 22 acres of city-owned property for a total of $187,000 to an undisclosed buyer for undisclosed purposes. The council’s agenda referred to this as an “economic development” deal known only as “Project Peach.”
On March 5, when council took a final vote on the deal, the buyer of the land was revealed as Georgia-Pacific. On May 9, during a work session on the city’s budget for this fiscal year, building inspector Alex Gainey said the city expected to earn $160,000 or more in permitting fees as a result of “Project Peach” – suggesting a big building project.