The Overlook with Matt Peiken

Wrapping Paper | What Happens to Canton After Pactiv Evergreen Closure?

September 04, 2023 Matt Peiken Episode 83
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
Wrapping Paper | What Happens to Canton After Pactiv Evergreen Closure?
Show Notes Transcript

When the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill sounded its final whistle on June 8, 115 years of continuous operation in Canton came to an end. 1,100 jobs were lost and some heavy questions remain about what will happen to those people, along with the 185-acre site and its buildings. Cory Vaillancourt and Holly Kays, reporters with the Smoky Mountain News in Waynesville, have led local coverage of the plant’s closure. We talk about the business trends that led to the closure,  the environmental impacts and outlook for the site, along with how people in Canton are weathering the closure. We’ll also talk about possible next-lives for the facilities, the stakes for Canton and, perhaps, for people priced-out of Asheville.

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Matt Peiken: The plant has existed for how long and how many different ownership groups or ownership hands has it gone through?

Cory Vaillancourt: It was founded as Champion Paper, or Champion Fiber, or some variation of that name. It's gone through several ownership changes, I can't name them all off the top of my head, but at one point it was employee owned as Blue Ridge Paper, and then I believe Evergreen came after that, and then I believe Pactive bought Evergreen, or whoever owned Evergreen, which leads us to Pactive Evergreen, which is what it is 

Matt Peiken: today.

These sort of mergers and consolidations happen in business everywhere. Did you get the sense or did you hear from people who've been employed by the mill for decades or were employed by the mill for decades that with these changes and mergers that something fundamental was changing also in terms of culturally, in terms of employer and employee relationships?

Talk about that if at all if you'd heard any stories around that. 

Cory Vaillancourt: Sure. So when it was champion, it had a local ownership or at least an ownership that would visit regularly. The top management was well known. They were very integrated into the community. It hasn't been like that in years. Most recently, a lot of the workers have said that the standards there have slipped the quality, the amount of parts they have on the shelf, just the ability to do their jobs.

Culturally, it's certainly changed because of all those factors, because of foreign ownership. I believe it's New Zealand. So it's become a lot more corporatized when it used to be just, basically the equivalent of a large educational campus. Everybody knew each other. Generations of workers had all been able to share in a little piece of the American dream.

I think the other important number, that sticks in my brain is 84, 500. That's the average median wage at the mill that's nearly triple Haywood County and certainly for the surrounding region Those are excellent wages for folks who may have a high school education may not.


Matt Peiken: crazy I didn't even know it was that high and were these employees Predominantly based in this specific town in Canton or Waynesville surrounding area or were some of them in Asheville? How far out did the employee base go? 

Cory Vaillancourt: So they did a survey and they did it by zip code and I believe they found something like in the high 80th percentile of Workers were all within five or ten miles of Canton.

Certainly. You've got them here in Maggie I believe that there were some out in Silva and then of course Candler Anka and Buncombe County I want to say about 10% of the workers did move in that direction rather than move west 

Holly Kays: I've just added that speaking with some of my folks in Cook County there are even some who live out near Cosby in that area, a handful, not many, but it goes 

Matt Peiken: far.

Cory Vaillancourt: The main facility in Canton had roughly eight or nine hundred employees. There's another facility in Waynesville that had about two hundred. We're struggling to understand how this has rippled out from the main mill facilities because there are all sorts of ancillary operations that support the mill.

You've got loggers, you've got chippers, you've even got the contracts that they let for things like janitorial services, landscaping. So we don't really have a great idea, but we can definitively say that this has rippled much further than just Canton. 

Matt Peiken: So when the announcement came of the plant closure, was this completely out of the blue or were there ripples, were there rumblings about this well before the official announcement?

Cory Vaillancourt: We got a little from column A, a little from column B. So, In early February, about a month before the closing announcement, the mill announced that they were idling one of their paper machines. Now, there's only four there, so that represents a 25% reduction not specifically in end product, but just in capacity.

So that was a head scratcher, and people were concerned, obviously, when that was announced. It was announced through a leaked memo. 

Matt Peiken: And you talked about how it's the region's highest employer and we, or was the region's highest employing base operation. And we have so few. Businesses and corporations that employ that many people in this region, when news did come down that this was going to shut down, talk about the reaction. Obviously the employees there, it's devastating, but was there an immediate sense of what is going to happen to this region give us a sense of what the conversation was happening around that.

Cory Vaillancourt: I think the first impacts were obviously going to be noted in Canton and people were concerned for that town and everything that, that involves and that's things like school enrollment, which affects school funding and certainly sales tax collections and people contributing to the local economy.

But then as we really started to get our arms around this, We did start to recognize that there would be a regional impact and we're still grappling with it today. I believe representative Chuck Edwards at a town hall said he estimated somewhere around 500 billion to the Western North Carolina economy.

Maybe that's right. Maybe it's not, but it's certainly a significant number. 

Matt Peiken: And you had alluded a moment ago that there were some rumblings when one piece of equipment was shutdown. Why did this plant need to shut down? Talk about what you heard from the ownership group and what has been either confirmed validated by others, by employees or a point of contention around the shutdown.

Talk about that. Sure, so 

Cory Vaillancourt: I'll tell you the story of how I learned this. On March 6th, I was sitting at home. I had all my work done. It was the late afternoon, and I had gotten a tip from one of my mill employees that they were starting to call meetings of employees groups. And so I got in my car and decided I would drive to Canton and see what I could learn.

I saw a building that's owned by Pactiv that was never opened before. I've been covering Canton eight years. I've never seen the doors open. They were open. So I took a lap around the mill. I didn't see anything out of order. But by the time I got back, there were large crowds in front of this building.

So I parked my car. I didn't see any security. I didn't see any sign in sheets. So I just slipped into the meeting. I blended right in. And I was lucky that I made that decision because Byron Racky, the vice president of Beverage Merchandising, he came out and he said we've got some bad news. We're going to get right to it.

The mill is closing. Now earlier you asked, were there rumblings? Did anyone expect this? I would have put a 10% chance on the mill closing. We all knew that there was something going on because that paper machine was idled. So we thought, maybe they're going to idle another machine. Maybe they're going to announce layoffs.

Maybe even announce that they've been sold to somebody. So when he came out and said it was closing It was the least predicted outcome, I think, and if you ask anybody here, they would all say the same 

Matt Peiken: thing. What was the rationale given for the shutdown at that moment and in the days and weeks after that?

Cory Vaillancourt: So, Racky, when he made his announcement, addressed the reasons that Pact of Evergreen had decided to shut the plant down. The first reason was they said, I believe his direct quote was, the paper market, The market for the kind of paper that they make, which is used in beverage packaging he said it had gone to hell in a handbasket.

That was the first reason. The second reason was, due to the age of the facility, they didn't think that it was a good financial decision to dump millions and millions of dollars in there to bring it up to date so that they could compete with some of these other international paper concerns. So those were the two reasons.

 This is a unionized group. plant. So I spoke with the regional vice president of the United Steelworkers. And he confirmed that yes, the paper market, it's not what it used to be. For 115 years, this place produced fine papers, various card stocks, things like that. The way this union official explained it to me, and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand this, is we don't use as much paper as we did before the internet.

You would go to your doctor and get a prescription and take it to the pharmacy. Now that's on a tablet or in an email. I don't write letters to people. So the global demand for paper has really diminished and it's like the carriage and buggy whip industry when the automobile 

Matt Peiken: came around.

So on the surface of it, just on the, just on that alone, that hey paper isn't used nearly to the degree that it used to, and we don't see the economic. Upside of investing many millions of dollars in modernizing our equipment when we're not going to see that point of return, correct? That's what that's exactly right.

Was there any contradicting research anything out there that showed that these owners were perhaps Cutting ties cutting loose too soon that there were other options available and people were looking into that Or were people who were even negatively affected by this did they had to? Grudgingly admit that yes, we were in a failing or dying industry 

Cory Vaillancourt: in all my work on this topic I have not once heard anyone contradict what Byron Racky said Which is the market has gone to hell and the investments required to bring this place up to speed are too 

Matt Peiken: great Holly you've been covering primarily the environmental concerns of this so running a parallel track along with the lifeblood of Pactive evergreen and this plant for 115 years. I imagine The environmental impact of this plant has been felt by this region all along. 

Holly Kays: Yes, and it's been a big point of contention, especially folks who live downstream. A few years ago, I covered the permitting process.

They had to get a permit renewal for their wastewater discharge. And that public hearing, which was held virtually, was, Very well attended and there were many people speaking to, what they said was the impact of them living downstream of, dirty water that causes rashes, all this kind of thing.

The mill has vastly cleaned up its act since, say, like the 80s and 90s. I wasn't here at that time. 

Matt Peiken: But how do you know it has cleaned up its act in what way? 

Holly Kays: I was not here at that time, but if you talk to anyone who was, they will tell you about seeing Black water with chunks of foam, floating on it, all this kind of thing.

There have been some technological advances. There have been changes in what they've been allowed to do through their permits. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. One of your stories, one of your recent stories, which really caught my eye was that there was something like 14 environmental violations.

 So 14 notices from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality just since May of 2021, and that the penalties for those were only about 42, 000, which I found really incredible that it's basically no penalty so you're saying on one hand, they cleaned their act up and no more black foam in the water.

Yet these environmental. Incursions were still happening pretty regularly and with little penalty to them. Yeah, 

Holly Kays: I mean, And we're talking about two different things there because there's like the level of pollution that you're allowed to do by permit. And then there's, these are violations of what they are now allowed to do by permit.

So I think some of those permitted. Impacts have been tightened up over time, but yes, we've certainly seen just a spate of violations over the past few years and there, there could be additional civil penalties. It does take a while for these things to work their way through the process, so like a violation that happened a couple months ago, like we won't know yet, what penalty there might be for that, but overall, that number you quoted from my story or somewhere north of 40, 000. It's, about half of the cost of an average salary for a full time employee. Yeah. So 

Matt Peiken: it's essentially a negligible penalty for this. And you just talked about, you made a distinction between allowable pollution under the permitting versus illegal pollution.

Can you talk a little bit about the kind of pollution that was allowable and what would happen? Were things allowed legally in the 80s and 90s, maybe even the early 2000s in terms of releasing toxic material into wastewater systems, anything that was allowed then that was discontinued that maybe we're still seeing the impacts of here.

Holly Kays: Yes, one thing that, environmental folks clean water folks will talk about a lot is dioxin levels in fish, and that was like a toxic byproduct of papermaking that, my understanding is it's not used anymore, not allowed anymore but like fish downstream of the mill were seen to have high levels of those, especially in previous 

Matt Peiken: years. 

Holly Kays: So when you look at water the two main things are temperature and color. So in the mills wastewater discharge permit, there's limits as to how much warmer the water downstream from the mill is allowed to be compared to the water upstream from it.

Water temperature is a big deal for aquatic organisms. At higher temperatures, a lot of them die or are, less successful with reproducing that kind of thing. And then color too that hence the black water of, the early nineties, prior to the mills on recent closure, it was more of a taffy brown.

So there was still some discoloration, but nowhere near the amount. Are 

Matt Peiken: environmental groups cheering the closure of this? Despite the job loss, or are you hearing from environmental advocates saying really, this is going to improve life in some ways for people in Canton and surrounding 


Holly Kays: I mean, When the news first came out, I talked to a lot of people who have been very, opposed to the mill and the pollution it causes. And, really, they were all very sure to say up front we really feel for the town of Canton. We've, seen industry shut down in my town. I understand, what a big blow this is.

So they've been very empathetic for what the town of Canton and the wider region is going through. But, yes, I think there are many folks, too, who also... I feel that, environmentally, this is going to be a good thing, that this is going to give the town of Canton a chance to reinvent itself the, and these folks aren't the ones who caused the mill closure, right?

The mill was not closed because of these environmental violations or anything like that. Other factors cause the mill's closure. That's happened. And so now we're looking for the silver linings and we're looking for the good that can result 

Matt Peiken: from that. I do want to get into what lies ahead for the plant itself.

But, Corey, you were in on the ground floor from the very beginning of the announcement of the closure. And I'm sure you've kept in touch with a lot of these employees since then. Talk about the arc of their Absorption of what's happened, what they're going to do and where they're at now, individually, if there are individuals you want to bring up as examples of pivots they're going to make in terms of their lives and careers, give us a sense of the range of reactions and things that have happened now in the four Plus months since then, 

Cory Vaillancourt: I think initially this process followed a similar process to when someone in your family dies.

And Canton's mayor, Zeb Smathers, has repeatedly said this first. It was shock. Then it was anger. Then it was grief. Then it was bargaining, whatever those steps are. And we did have our funeral. When the last whistle blew on June 8th, I believe it was. So the employees all of the employees I've talked to throughout this story followed that largely.

They were shocked, and there was a fair bit of denial. We had the mayor of Kannapolis in town for a town hall, and something like this had happened to them years back. And he repeatedly said, the first thing you've got to do is make your peace with the fact that there is not another paper mill coming to Canton.

No one is going to swoop in and save the day here. So I think that was a big part in moving forward was the acceptance. And that frees you to start to consider what your possibilities might be. 

Matt Peiken: So along those lines, what are you hearing from people? Some people thinking I'm going to have to move and find an area that's going to employ me or other people saying I can make life happen here, but just in another line of work.

What are the stories you're hearing? 

Cory Vaillancourt: You're seeing a spectrum of that very reasoning, a lot of people did move, I believe some folks moved to Charleston, South Carolina to a similar operation. Already, 

Matt Peiken: there are people who've left here for that months 

Cory Vaillancourt: ago, I'm talking March, like late March, some people just said, Welp.

This is over. I guess I'll go find a new job. Upstate South Carolina had some opportunities. International Paper actually came here to Lake Janouska and poached a lot of employees long before the last day. 

Matt Peiken: In some ways, those workers, that must have been a real sort of angelic move, for this other paper plant to come in, say, you're skilled, we're going to take you not far away, actually, from where you live.

Are some of those people commuting to that plant in Lake Junaluska and able to stay in their homes here? 

Cory Vaillancourt: Some folks are commuting. Some folks have moved. And again, this is one of the ramifications that we have yet to see the data on is how much of that skilled workforce that was making 85, 000 a year has left the area.

They're no longer going to the bar. They're not going to the barber. They're not going to the baker or to the bank. Where are these people spending their money? It's not in Haywood County. I 

Matt Peiken: guess both of you must be dialed into what's next also for that facility. And I know a lot of people, or some people in Asheville, you look at rising housing costs, whereas Canton, relative to the rest of the region, historically has been among the lower cost of livings.

Housing has been less in Canton than in other regions, probably in some ways because of the smell coming off the paper mill. So I've heard some people in arts and music saying, Hey, could that paper plant be turned into a gigantic artist live work studio complex? I've heard other ideas.

What are you hearing? Either of you about what is next for that plant 

Holly Kays: I think everyone's got an idea, right? That's 

Cory Vaillancourt: absolutely right. But the reality of the situation is the entire site is prone to flooding. Right along the Pigeon River there is in the I don't know the technical terms.

Holly probably does, but that's the worst part. And then further out, it's like it floods every hundred years. And then further out, it floods periodically. So nothing can happen on this site until the flooding concerns are addressed. So 

Matt Peiken: were we seeing, was that plant every year or regularly seasonally getting flooded?

Cory Vaillancourt: When we had the major flooding here in 2021, the plant incurred significant damage. It also incurred significant damage during an equally devastating flood in 2004. I am certain that periodically in the intervening years, when we get a heavy rainstorm, there's water there. I don't know how much it affects operations, but it's not the kind of place you want to put a strip mall or a condo right 

Matt Peiken: now.

And at the same time, Holly, I imagine that... people are just discovering some of the deeper layers of environmental impact of the plant that they would not have been able to have access to if it were just up and running still. What are some of the environmental concerns of that site going forward? 

Holly Kays: We have yet to receive from the state a complete assessment of that site that, would include, like you said, all those kind of behind closed doors kinds of things.

I have been trying to do some investigating to look at what some of those issues might be. 

Matt Peiken: Is it still owned by the company? 

Holly Kays: Yeah, and so the company is still responsible for any environmental violations, environmental impact from that site. They still hold the permits, they still own the site, and there are specific processes for rescinding those permits or passing them on to somebody else, 

Matt Peiken: What is the timeline for that? I imagine since Pact of Evergreen shut down the plant, they don't have any real interest in retaining it other than maybe real estate value. So what are you hearing about their intentions to either divest themselves of that site or redevelop themselves and develop condos or to sell it to somebody who wants to turn it into condos and they can bank that money?

I think you'd 

Holly Kays: have to ask them that because they're really the only ones that know. I was wondering 

Matt Peiken: if you'd asked them. 

Holly Kays: I've asked them all kinds of things, Matt, and I don't usually get answers. Really? 

Matt Peiken: Are they pretty tight lipped in general? Are they more type lipped since announcing the closure than they were otherwise?

Are you just getting stonewalled about getting decent information? 

Holly Kays: It's been kind of off and on. They've often been difficult to get information from, but then there's also staff turnover. They've had some PIOs, public information officers, who have been pretty good about, Providing at least written responses to questions and others less but I would say definitely since the closure was announced.

Those responses have been fewer and farther between. 

Matt Peiken: I imagine the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality would have some legal access to the site. After all, they're the ones who've been citing the company for violations. Are there environmental entities like that who are going in right now and assessing what?

The condition is, 

Holly Kays: My understanding from talking to representatives from D E Q is that there is an ongoing process to assess environmental issues with the mill and to complete a site closure plan that, takes all that into consideration. But that, plan has not been made available at 

Matt Peiken: this time.

So we've touched on. The economic impact individually and regionally, we've touched on the environmental impact. Is there any element of this that we have not talked about that you think is really an undercurrent or under talked about here? 

Holly Kays: I think one thing that bears discussion is, or just emphasis really, is It's just that while the mill has been the lifeblood of the town for many decades and has provided a lot of benefits to the town, it's also going to leave a legacy that's a little bit uglier.

In 1908 when This mill was built, there weren't really environmental regulations there are three landfills scattered along the banks of the Pigeon River that are unlined, that aren't required to be monitored. That, will only be looked at unless contamination is reported.

And how do you know if contamination has occurred if there's no monitoring? And those, I should point out, are not the responsibility of Pact of Evergreen. They're the responsibility of the previous owner, International Paper. But if 

Matt Peiken: you take on the ownership of it, you take on the problems, right?

It's almost like a company that buys a company takes on their debt. 

Holly Kays: No, I mean, any issues that would stem, that would have to do with those landfills are actually responsibility of international paper just because of how the permitting and everything works 

Matt Peiken: on that. What if international paper dissolves?

So is there then nobody who can literally legally be held accountable? 

Holly Kays: That's why the Superfund Program within the EPA was created to take care of some of those orphan sites that don't have any responsible party, but... You 

Matt Peiken: just got to a word that I was going to ask you about. Do you foresee Pact of Evergreen being declared a Superfund site?

Holly Kays: All the information I have right now and what I've been told from DEQ says that Pact of Evergreen has the resources at its disposal to live up to its responsibilities. 

Matt Peiken: It's responsibilities, but not the responsibilities of the previous owner. 

Holly Kays: Yeah, and same with them. I have no information right now that would indicate that either of those companies is about to go belly up.

The future is long and uncertain. Maybe someday, but. 

Matt Peiken: Corey, is there anything that, again, I know you thought there was something that we haven't talked about yet. 

Cory Vaillancourt: So one of the impacts that you can't really put on a piece of paper or measure with an economics department at a university is the culture. So the mill has been an integral part. It is literally in the center of town. It has been for 115 years. Your grandpa worked there. Your cousins worked there.

Now that that's gone, maintaining the identity of the town, which is important, is a goal. It is so ingrained into the culture that the steam whistles at the mill they blow at the beginning of high school football games and when they score touchdowns and the last whistle, it meant a lot to a lot of people who have heard that whistle every day of their life.

Mayor Smathers was able to negotiate with Pact of Evergreen and they gave him these steam powered whistles. That's how important that legacy is to the town. We don't know what he's going to do with them or anything, but at least they've been but in a larger sense, this is a mill town and it will always be a mill town.

Another great quote from mayor Smathers is he said the grit and the toughness and the values that made us a mill town are what are going to get us through 

Matt Peiken: this. What percentage of Canton's population was employed by. 

Cory Vaillancourt: I don't know that we uh, Canton's population is roughly 5, 000 and the mill at its peak employed nearly that number.

Now it hasn't been that way in decades. There was maybe a thousand people there tops. So I would say, based on the zip code surveys and everything else, maybe 15% of the town was employed there. 

Matt Peiken: And you're touching on something that's really nebulous culture, and it's not something you can manufacture.

So many cities have tried to manufacture culture through design schemes and certain kinds of development. What do you think from your best observation? Is going to happen to that culture? How is that going to evolve, 

Cory Vaillancourt: I look at Pittsburgh as a great example of this. So Pittsburgh was known as a steel town until Japanese steel in the 80s made things difficult.

And then you started seeing steel plants and coal plants close. A lot of the smoke and haze around the town lifted and the town reinvented itself as MEDS and EDS. I think there's a Google facility there. They've really changed their economy from what it was even 50 years ago. They've also preserved that cultural tradition of being a steel town. They've still got the Steelers. They've still got the hardhats and that blue collar ethic. So I think it can persist regardless of what industries remain in your town. Yeah, 

Matt Peiken: and you think about some things just can't be torn down, that if you've ever spent any time in Pittsburgh, the brick buildings, this hardscrabble blue collar feel, is just not going to go away just because the steel mills have evolved or gone away.

I can't imagine that some of the, the people who live here, they're still here. There's some people leaving. That's why I wanted to get to the percentage of people who were employed by the plant who might be leaving. Holly, what do you think this is going to open up or how are things going to evolve environmentally in this region?

You mentioned the Pigeon River, we haven't talked about what kind of activities happen on the Pigeon River. In Asheville, it's the French Broad River. What happens on the Pigeon River and what do you, how do you think this closure is going to affect whether it's leisure activities, fishing, other industry that might be relying on that river?

Holly Kays: Above the mill in Canton, people fish on the river, people kayak on the river, people tube on the river. And you don't see that So much until you get quite a ways downstream from the mill. I think a lot of folks are hoping that this is going to open up a lot of recreation opportunities downstream from the mill.

 Fisheries and water quality folks I've spoken with said there have been initial positive indicators of Water quality improving pretty quickly downstream you know, some fish populations coming back. There's a lot of tributaries to the Pigeon downstream from there that have.

Plenty good water quality. So a lot of the species have been thriving up there and are expected to make their way down to the main river channel in pretty short order. So I think there's a lot of hope that a revitalization of the river will really help Canton as it enters this next chapter. Do you think 

Matt Peiken: Corey, when we're talking about.

Adapting in terms of the economy, could this end up modernizing Canton and opening it up to certain kind of industries and maybe certain kind of employees moving here who may not have had room here before, even though the mill paid very well, but they were specific kinds of jobs.

Are there efforts to bring in certain kind of tech companies now or others that hey, we now have perhaps some ability to bring in some people that Otherwise would not have come in here. Is there talk of that?

Cory Vaillancourt: So I think as much benefit as the mill provided, it also stifled some of that type of development where people would say we don't, we're a tech company. Why would we go to Canton? It's a mill town. Certainly lifting this off of the shoulders of the people of Canton opens up those possibilities.

We've already seen some development downtown. I personally have a friend who has a building right next to the mill. He's planning on putting in a car. Craft cocktail bar. He's got a recording studio already in there. He wants to have basically an artist space So it is looking towards West Asheville for that creative economy to come in and when we talk about creative economies I think the book was by a guy named Richard, Florida rise of the creative class.

Yeah, I've talked with him that book is a life changer for a lot of economic development professionals who don't understand that having a vibrant arts scene is an economic sector. It's not what you think of off the top of your head, but it's a possibility that Canton is able to accommodate more of those folks because, as you said, it is more affordable, at least for now, and Let's be honest, the smell prevented a lot of folks from buying property in a town.

Now, most of us don't notice it, you don't care, after a certain amount of time you don't even realize it's there. 

Matt Peiken: That says a lot, too. And 

Cory Vaillancourt: it's all over the South. These paper mills, this is not the first or the last or the only. And so anywhere in the South you go, you smell that sickly sweet smell.

And when you bring it up around here, people say that smells like 

Matt Peiken: money. This is why Canton, I think, is a really interesting... Crystal ball, and we can't really see what's there, but Canton when you go west from Asheville, it's the first real, still old town in this region. We have Candler, there's no downtown in Candler.

Canton is the first one, and you can see the possibility of Ashvillians being pushed out because of cost, West Asheville has gone up astronomically, and the artist class looking, where is the first nearby area? Marshall, Weaverville, those have gone up in cost. Silva is getting way up there. And so Canton just seems wow, maybe if the environmental concerns can somehow...

You'll be tied up in a bow if Pact of Evergreen opens up that building or sells that building to other uses, so you can see potential, at least outside looking in. So I guess I will close with, are each of you hopeful? Or where's your scale of hopeful versus cynicism about what lies ahead for Canton and that site?

Holly, can you start first? 

Holly Kays: As a outdoors person, outdoors lover I'm definitely hopeful about what the town of Canton can do with this, newly cleaned river with hopefully, newly robust fish populations just the natural beauty that could come from that.

The outdoor economy sector is, Huge. The largest outdoor economy conference in the nation happens near here in Cherokee every year, it gets like more than 600 people showing up. So that's a big deal. I have heard a lot of worries from locals. about those housing prices because, the average income here in Haywood County is a lot less than other places.

If it becomes a more attractive place for folks with maybe higher salaries from other places to move in, there could be some pushout that happens there from local folks. But, we don't really know what's going to happen. It's going to happen until it happens and things have a way of shaking out.

There are always all of these unidentified variables that we don't know going 

Matt Peiken: in. Of course. Corey, what are your feelings about what's Canton going to look like in five, 10 years? 

Cory Vaillancourt: That's a tough question. My feelings tell me that this place is going to be okay.

Ultimately, if there was anywhere for this to happen and people to survive, it would be Canton. We saw this community come together in the floods in 2021, in the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, along with COVID. This town has persevered. Through so much. I have no doubt. And I have tremendous faith in the leadership from the city level to the county level to the state legislature that this town will survive.

Now, in what capacity? We really don't know. I suppose My desire would be to see this site become some sort of nature attraction they've got Berm Park over in Chestnut Mountain, which is a mountain biking facility. They're capitalizing on outdoor economy there. If you can link that to a downtown Canton area where there's mountain biking, there's trails, there's ice cream, there's beers that could be a huge thing for Canton.

 We're all concerned with the future of the site and as pactive owns it. It's purely their decision what they do with it We've heard rumblings that pactive has entertained some potential buyers or developers and is having conversations But the hallmark of this entire process is that pactive has not been really communicative with the outside world And so the town got wind that there may be some motion in moving this parcel to new uses But they weren't involved in the conversation, so they passed an industrial development moratorium only aimed at the parcel and another part of town where if you want to come in and buy this parcel, you're going to have to talk to the town first because they want to make sure that you're not going to buy this and build A tire incinerator, a bitcoin mine, or you're just going to leave it sit and let it become a public safety nightmare.

But maintaining its culture, I think is going to be the biggest challenge. There's some very widespread differences between Asheville's culture and Haywood County and Mayor Smathers, again, with a great quote. He said, I don't mind being West of Asheville. I just don't want to be West Asheville.

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