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The Arkansas Economic Development Commission is working with leaders at Kimberly-Clark Corp. to develop an incentive package to try to keep the company's Conway plant open, the commission said Friday.

Kimberly-Clark informed its employees in Conway on Thursday and Friday that the company is considering closing the mill, said Terry Balluck, a Kimberly-Clark spokesman. The plant has about 350 workers.

"Kimberly-Clark discussed with its employees at Conway the potential for the facility to close based on meeting the challenging objectives of its global restructuring program," Balluck said Friday. "At this time, the company has not made a final decision related to this facility."

Arkansas is evaluating what it can do to keep the Conway plant open, said Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The state is working with Conway to decide what incentives could be offered to Kimberly-Clark, Preston said.

"We're trying to come up with an assessment of what we think would be fair for the state, the community and for the taxpayer, but also enticing enough for the company to want to stay," Preston said.

Everything is on the table in the negotiations, said Jamie Gates, executive vice president of the Conway Chamber of Commerce.

"We're going to use every tool available to compete for these jobs," Gates said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said it was disappointing to hear that Kimberly-Clark is considering closing its Conway facility.

"We want to assure our workers in Conway and our citizens that we are doing everything we can to reverse the company's decision," Hutchinson said in a prepared statement. "Kimberly-Clark has had a presence in Conway for almost half a century and has invested heavily in the community there. The Conway plant has historically performed well, and the products manufactured here are likely to remain in demand."

Arkansas has advantages for Kimberly-Clark, the governor said.

"Arkansas is a right-to-work state with lower costs of doing business than many states where [Kimberly-Clark] has operations," Hutchinson said.

Kimberly-Clark's mill in Maumelle has not been targeted for possible closure, said Judy Keller, executive director of economic development in Maumelle. That plant has about 300 employees.

Irving, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark makes products such as Kleenex, Scott, Huggies, Kotex and Depend brands.

To lower costs worldwide, Kimberly-Clark said in January that it would eliminate 5,000 to 5,500 jobs -- about 12 percent to 13 percent of its employees -- and close 10 plants by the end of 2020. Kimberly-Clark expects the restructuring to cost $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion and to affect the company in all of its major global areas, according to its regulatory filings.

In late January, Kimberly-Clark said it would close two plants in Wisconsin, cutting 600 jobs. One is a sister plant of the Conway facility, making similar products, Preston said.

The Wisconsin Legislature proposed an incentive package to ensure the plants would remain open. But the Legislature still has not passed the bill.

"With a large incentive deal and pressure from the [plant's] unions, including a renegotiated labor contract, [Kimberly-Clark is] now considering keeping the Wisconsin [plants] open and shutting the Conway facility," said Brandi Hinkle, a spokesman for the state commission.

But Kimberly-Clark has not made a decision about the Wisconsin plants, Preston said.

Kimberly-Clark has been in Conway for about 50 years. It has been a part of the fabric of Conway, said Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry.

"They are a vital part of our community," Castleberry said. "Hopefully they will continue operations in our city well into the future."

Shares of Kimberly-Clark rose 49 cents to close Friday at $105.62 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The share price has lost about 13 percent of its value this year.

Business on 07/14/2018

Print Headline: Agency aims to entice Conway plant to stay

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