After decades in Dubuque, manufacturer in its final days

Operations are winding down this week at the Georgia-Pacific corrugated facility in Dubuque after the company decided to close the plant employing 85 over concerns that it no longer was economically viable.

The facility’s official last day is Saturday, Dec. 31, but the company already had started the decommission process as of Thursday afternoon. Since announcing the closure at the beginning of November, the company has worked the past two months to finish out end-of-year orders.

“Unfortunately, this was just one (plant) where we felt that it wasn’t beneficial to our customers to continue operating at the facility,” said company Public Affairs Manager Lauren Campen. “It has absolutely nothing to do with our employees. … We’re just no longer competitive (at that location).”

The Dubuque plant at 2150 Kerper Blvd. — originally operating as St. Regis Paper Co. — actually preceded the creation of Kerper Industrial Park in the late 1950s. It is one of two locations the company has in Iowa, along with a gypsum operation in Fort Dodge.

One of the Dubuque plant’s major customers is convenience store chain Casey’s, for whom the plant made cardboard pizza boxes.

Campen said the closure was prompted by a business analysis that determined the facility was no longer competitive. Corrugated orders have declined nationwide, and Campen said the money and time needed to update the Dubuque building’s equipment outweighed potential revenue options.

“The machinery that goes into making boxes is very, very large equipment that costs a lot of money, and just like any other industry right now, there’s supply-chain issues, so getting updated equipment was going to take a while,” she explained. “So, that’s something that went into the decision, as well.”

She added that there are no definitive plans on if or when Georgia-Pacific will sell the 85,000-square-foot building on Kerper Boulevard, as decisions about property sales are made after the final day of production.

The closure was announced in early November, 60 days ahead of the final day of operation in accordance with the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. All 85 employees at the plant were affected.

Salaried employees had the option to relocate to open positions at other Georgia-Pacific locations with the help of the company. Hourly workers were offered assistance finding jobs at other Dubuque-area employers in collaboration with local organizations such as the United Steelworkers union and Greater Dubuque Development Corp.

GDDC Director of Workforce Programming Nic Hockenberry said a local rapid response team was formed shortly after the closure announcement to assist affected workers and help them find new jobs.

A job fair was held in early December with 70 area employers all vying for workers amid a nationwide labor shortage. The event was prompted by the Georgia-Pacific closure but open to the public, Hockenberry said. More than 160 people attended, at least 30 of them from Georgia-Pacific’s Dubuque plant.

Hockenberry said efforts have continued to assist local Georgia-Pacific workers, and he knows of affected employees who have been “snatched up” by other local employers looking to bolster their workforce.

“Any worker that is interested in a job can find one in this market,” Hockenberry said. “… There’s never a good time for an employer closure in a city, but if there ever was a time for that to happen, the employers right now are well suited to absorb those 85 employees into the market.”