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Rowan’s gains come with closing of another NC plant

SALISBURY — Performance Fibers plans to close a production site in New Hill and move 60 jobs to the company’s plant in Rowan County.
A global manufacturer of industrial and tire reinforcement fibers and fabrics, Performance Fibers on Friday announced plans to cut about 230 jobs at the Moncure facility, which is located in New Hill. The company will transfer production from Moncure to the plant at 7401 Statesville Boulevard and concentrate yarn production in Rowan County during the next 12 to 15 months, spokesman Brad Leach said.
Moncure employees will have first chance at the 60 new jobs in Rowan County, but because the plants are more than 100 miles apart, accepting a transfer likely would mean relocating, Leach said. The company does not yet have a sense of how many Moncure workers will apply for a transfer, he said.
Pressure from imports caused the company to make the change, Leach said. Performance Fibers will invest $25 million to transform and renew the company, he said.
“We need to make an investment to upgrade and modernize our equipment, and that is impossible or difficult to do when you have multiple sites that are not fully utilized,” Leach said.
Performance Fibers did not apply for tax incentives from Rowan County but may qualify for funds to help train new workers, said Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks Economic Development Commission.
The EDC is working with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to identify funding for customized worker training, Van Geons said. The addition of 60 jobs at the Rowan plant is good news for the county, he said.
“That facility has been a very, very important one to Rowan County for decades and we are excited to see increased activity and a positive trend of employment,” Van Geons said. “We look forward to continue working with them and supporting them.”
The massive Rowan plant, which measures more than 1 million square feet, currently has 200 employees, Leach said. While capacity at the plant is 200 million pounds of PET fiber — which stands for polyethylene terephthalate, a form of polyester — Leach said the company does not disclose actual production volume, which changes year to year.
The plant is operating well below optimal operating rates, he said.
Before Performance Fibers bought the plant, Invista operated the facility. Before than, it was Hoechst Celanese.
Performance Fibers is a global manufacturer serving 20 percent of global demand for PET fibers and fabrics, which are used as reinforcements for passenger car tires and many industrial products. Among the company’s key advantages is having local production to serve local demand in each region of the world, Leach said.
“Over half of the tires purchased in the U.S. are now coming from imports rather than domestic production,” Wahid Tawfik, CEO for the Americas and Europe, said in a news release. “United States tire manufacturers are our customers, and they are facing considerable and growing competitive pressure.
“Likewise, Performance Fibers faces a double impact with offshore competitors offering similar reinforcement products at lower prices imported into our home markets.”
In order to remain competitive in the face of this double impact, Performance Fibers will invest $25 million during the next 21 months to modernize equipment, improve product quality and create a “product development center of excellence.”
The Moncure facility is expected to close after all products are transferred during the next 12 to 15 months.
“Our customers value our position as the only remaining North American manufacturer of tire reinforcements and industrial products, and we take great pride in producing those products right here in the Carolinas,” said Mark Wall, chief commercial officer.
Performance Fibers is committed to a North American presence, Wall said.
Closing the Moncure plant was a “very difficult decision,” as workers there have made significant and lasting contributions to the business over many years, said Rick Spurlock, vice president of human resources.
But the physical assets of the Moncure site can no longer provide the foundation required in the challenging competitive environment, Spurlock said.
The company’s decision to concentrate yarn production in Rowan gives Performance Fibers the ability to make investment dollars and process changes more powerful, Tawfik said.
“Performance Fibers must make this investment and transformation in order to give our associates here in the Carolinas every opportunity to compete and succeed against offshore competition,” he said.
The company’s annual revenue is more than $800 million.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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