Tobacco industry downturn causes cigar factory closure

Published 3:14 pm Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The increased battle against tobacco — smoking restrictions, rising taxes and government regulations — has resulted in part to the closing of The Cigar Factory in Selma.

An official at the factory said Tuesday the last production day is Nov. 14. People will receive paychecks through Dec. 5, said Vlencon Brown, the plant manger.

Altadis U.S.A. owns the plant, which has manufactured blunt-shaped cigars.

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Richard C. McKenzie, senior vice president of human resources for Altadis, said a decrease in consumer demand for the blunt-shaped cigar is another reason for the factory’s closure. A blunt is a cigar that is wider than a cigarillo and not quite as wide as a traditional cigar. The cigars consist of an inner leaf and a thicker outer leaf rolled around the inner leaf in a spiral.

The closure will leave 213 people unemployed, but city, county and economic development officials say there’s hope.

Altadis U.S. A.’s announcement comes on the heels of another announcement last week that Alliance Technology Group Inc. would bring an investment of $25 million and 175 jobs during the next two years. The Alabama operation will produce the company’s composite container panels and ship them to its Tennessee facility for fabrication and assembly.

Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard said the county, the City of Selma and the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority would work together to ensure that as many people as possible from The Cigar Factory get job opportunities.

“We’re committed to helping place them,” Ballard said.

McKenzie stressed that workers at the plant were not the problem, but the plant fell victim to a shaky national economy and the tobacco business, which has seen a downturn in the last year since massive lawsuits and media blitzes cut back on users of the product.

Mayor-elect George Evans agreed. “It’s a spin-off all over the county. I think this has been coming for a long time as governments adopt policies to go smoke free.”

Evans said The Cigar Factory has been a good company for more than 60 years, and a good neighbor in Selma and Dallas County.

“They are not leaving because they want to leave to make more money,” he said.

Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the EDA, pointed out last week’s news of a new industry locating in Dallas County and Selma and said the authority is courting other prospects.

Additionally, the state has programs to help retrain workers, Vardaman said, pointing to Wallace Community College Selma as one of those institutions focused on helping train workers and retrain others.

Alliance Industries will open up its employment process soon, Vardaman said.

“We recognize there’s more pressure to get more jobs,” he said.

Those from the closing cigar factory who would get other jobs would be assets, McKenzie said. “These people are fantastic workers. They built a great product. We’ve literally had no employment problem in the plant.”