The descent of North Carolina’s once-powerful tobacco industry was evident last week in Farmville, where Pyxus International said it would lay off about 565 workers at leaf-processing plant and offices. Some production will move to Wilson, where the company has a newer facility that prepares tobacco leaf for sale to manufacturers of cigarettes and other products. A small contingent of Pyxus workers will remain in Farmville working on special projects and storage, officials told securities analysts last week.
Most of the Farmville jobs are seasonal with the workers typically getting four to six months of wages annually, says Wanda Yuhas, executive director of the Pitt County Development Commission.
But tobacco’s history in Farmville — a town of 4,500 about eight miles east of Greenville — makes the downsizing particularly poignant. Albert Coy Monk started brokering tobacco in Farmville in 1907, creating one of the world’s largest processors. By the 1980s the company employed about 70 buyers and employed about 1,000 in peak season in Farmville, while selling tobacco globally, according to William Powell’s Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Monk and Co., then operated by the founder’s sons Bill, Coy and Robert, doubled in size in 1990 by buying Austin Company, a Greeneville, Tenn.-based tobacco merchant.
The business went public in 1992 with the family holding about 70% of shares, followed three years later by a merger with Dibrell Brothers of Danville, Va. In 2005, the merged company, called Dimon, acquired Wilson-based Standard Commercial Corp., another big tobacco processor, then changed its name to Alliance One International and moved its headquarters to Morrisville in Wake County.
The Alliance One name lasted until earlier this year, when officials selected Pyxus as the new moniker. It has generated buzz by expanding in to hemp and cannabis. But the continued decline in smoking is taking its toll. In quarterly results announced last week, Pyxus said it lost $54.6 million, compared with net profit of $1 million a year earlier.
Losing its most famous business, or at least a big chunk of it, is a blow for Farmville. But town officials have worked hard for years to diversify and become a thriving arts center. Its downtown includes art galleries, a large glass-blowing facility, craft brewery, restaurants and, pretty soon, a distillery.
Pyxus officials have not described how many jobs might be added at the Wilson site, says Jennifer Lantz, executive director of the Wilson Economic Development Council.
The North Carolina Business News Wire contributed to this story.
[media-credit name=”East Carolina University Digital Collection” align=”aligncenter” width=”800″][/media-credit]