American Greetings to close local plant in 2019

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By Forrest Berkshire, Editor

(Updated at 4:06 p.m. to reflect statement from company.) 

American Greetings informed its workers Tuesday morning that the plant will close early next year.

The announcement came as a blow to more than 400 local workers, some of whom have worked there for 30 years or more.

“It’s pretty devastating for Bardstown, especially the people who have worked there since almost Day 1,” said Kim Huston, executive director for the Nelson County Economic Development Agency.

Huston said Tuesday morning that neither she nor County Judge-Executive Dean Watts had received notification from the corporate headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, but that management at the local facility had confirmed the pending closure.

By Tuesday afternoon, the company had publicly confirmed the closure.

"American Greetings Corporation announced today it will be closing its manufacturing facility in Bardstown, Kentucky by the end of February 2019, the statement read. "The decision comes after an evaluation of the company’s future production needs. The facility is responsible for greeting card manufacturing, and as part of the transition and closure plan, available space and capacity within the American Greetings network will be utilized."

American Greetings is one of the oldest and largest manufacturers in the county, which made Tuesday’s news especially painful.

“American Greetings has been in our economic development family for a long, long time,” Huston said.

The company opened a 300,000-square-foot factory in Bardstown in 1983. The company employed about 730 workers by 1987, when it announced an expansion of 100,000 square feet.

The company was the largest private employer in Nelson County at one time. Its employment always fluctuated with the seasonal demands of the greeting card industry, but in recent years, as the internet eroded the card industry, the local facility’s employment has declined. The plant currently employs 446, according to a press release sent to The Standard Tuesday afternoon.

The company announced layoffs in January at the Bardstown plant that were tied to the loss of a contract to supply the retail chain Dollar Tree. The plan called for 64 people to be laid off this month and an additional 86 within 90 more days.

Then, in February, the privately owned company announced it was selling a majority stake to a private equity firm. Clayton, Dubelier & Rice of New York would acquire 60 percent and the Weiss Family, descendants of the company’s founder, would retain 40 percent.

Huston said while the factory’s closing will be a blow, the local job market has capacity to absorb displaced workers, and there will be state assistance and programs to help those workers transition. Nelson County’s unemployment rate in December was 3.2 percent.

She also noted that Takigawa, a packaging products manufacturer, is scheduled to break ground next month and hopes to start operations in 2019. That company has announced it intends to hire 180 workers.

Watts also said he was optimistic for the long-term.

“American Greetings has provided the community with a lot of good jobs over the years. Some folks have been out there for decades,” Watts said. “I feel confident we’ll be able to help place some of those folks.”