The Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization Corporation’s plant is up and running, and, according to company leadership, the facility’s performance is exceeding initial expectations.
As part of its mission to enhance economic opportunities for its member farmers, the cooperative took the dramatic step in 2004 of buying its own processing and cigarette-making plant. Recently, cooperative leadership gave an extensive tour of the facility. Tobacco Farm Quarterly was on location to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the farmer-owned factory in action.
On a chilly day in late November 2005, a group of farmers, journalists and Extension personnel crowded through the doors of the Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization’s processing and cigarette-making plant in Timberlake, N.C., for a tour organized by Cooperative CEO Arnold Hamm following that morning’s Person County Farm City Breakfast.
On July 13, 2004, the cooperative purchased a tobacco-processing and cigarette-manufacturing facility from Vector Tobacco for $26 million and formed a subsidiary named U.S. Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers Inc.
Now, the factory is up and running, and Hamm says they are already thinking about adding new shifts of workers to expand plant production.
Hamm led observers on an extensive tour of the plant, unique in its ability to thresh, expand stems, toast burley, cut tobacco and manufacture cigarettes, all under one roof. The plant has the potential of producing 10 billion cigarettes and 18,000 metric tons of unmanufactured tobacco strips per year. It ships out blended and flavored cut rag, expanded stem, toasted burley and flue-cured strips around the world. The facility grounds, located about 20 miles north of Durham, cover 57 acres, the centerpiece of which is the 350,000-square-foot manufacturing plant.
Hamm says that the cooperative is in a growth stage, working on developing new products, expanding the overseas market, expanding the U.S. roll-your-own market and developing other new products. Hamm is especially optimistic about the domestic roll-your-own market; he estimates the total market size to be 17 million pounds.
The factory is currently manufacturing cigarette brands such as Traffic, Kick, Creston and Passport. The cooperative hopes that Kick—with its package design by a vice president of Universal Studios—will compete in the Japanese market. Passport is an English-blend cigarette for the overseas market, which the cooperative plans to begin selling soon in the U.S.
The facility also produces a little cigar with the brand name of Stampede. The little cigars are similar to cigarettes, but the blend is mostly air-cured tobaccos.
The cooperative expects to eventually employ 400 full-time workers. Right now the factory employs 100 full-time and 200 part-time workers, running on two 12-hour shifts. Plant managers are already thinking about going to three shifts.
Making the facility operational in such a short time has required a great deal of hard work, Hamm says. “It’s been a challenge to get it up to speed, but as I look in the rearview mirror, I think we’ve done a good job.”