NASHVILLE, N.C. — The tobacco industry is hurting badly in North Carolina. Demand and production are way down.
Nevertheless, a Nash County company is making a big investment in the future of the industry.
Thousands of bales of tobacco roll into the brand new plant each week. The tobacco is sorted by type and stacked in a 1.2 million square-foot complex built by Universal Leaf Company -- the world's largest tobacco dealer.
"We have the ability to process about 225 million pounds of flue-cured here," said Universal Leaf representative Todd Haymore. "That is a six-day work week, 24 hours a day."
The plant has been up and running for less than a month and will host a grand opening on Friday. It processes only tobacco grown in the United States, and it has a 10-year contract to handle leaf for Phillip Morris.
No cigarettes are made here. It is simply a tobacco processing plant.
The leaf is custom blended and then removed from the stems.
"We cut it to specifications of our customers," Haymore said. "We take moisture out. We add moisture. We pack it. We ship it on to the manufacturers of tobacco products."
The plant runs multiple lines at the same time.
According to Haymore, the peak business will run from late September until March, "when we process flue-cured tobacco and burley tobacco."
It takes roughly 20 minutes for rough tobacco to come in on the other end of Universal Leaf's state-of-the-art facility. It is blended and cleaned. The stems are removed and then ready to head to a customer
The giant plant also will be a giant employer. Universal Leaf has hired more than 1,000 people to work here.