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Gov. Cooper visits Canton to encourage WNC to support small businesses after the paper mill closes

Canton Mayor Pro Temp Gail Mull, NC Governor Roy Cooper and Senator Kevin Corbin shopped on Main Street in Canton during a visit on Friday, May 26.
Lilly Knoepp/ BPR News
Canton Mayor Pro Temp Gail Mull, NC Governor Roy Cooper and Senator Kevin Corbin shopped on Main Street in Canton during a visit on Friday, May 26.

Following the last whistle at the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill in Canton, Governor Roy Cooper visited the town to support the small businesses on Main Street. He said small businesses will be impacted in a ripple effect from the closure.

“One of the things that we wanted to do was to foster the community spirit that we know exists in Western North Carolina,” Cooper said. “And to encourage people from Asheville and the surrounding counties to, ‘Hey, if you’ve got a day, come to Canton and go shopping.”

Amanda Cook works at Blue Moon Books, one of the stops on the group’s shopping trip. She took her children to hear the last whistle at Sorrell’s Park on Tuesday.

Amanda Cook poses at Blue Moon Books in Canton.
Lilly Knoepp/BPR News
Amanda Cook poses at Blue Moon Books in Canton.

“It felt pretty surreal but also you could feel how much the community was really saddened by it but also supportive of each other,” Cook said.

She was glad the governor came to highlight small businesses in Canton.

“I love this little town so anything that will keep this town going is appreciated,” she said.

Cooper said the state of North Carolina is ready to help Canton more forward through financial support, work to bring new industry and small business to the town and health support for those who have lost their jobs.

“We need to figure out exactly where the money needs to go here and what it can be used for. We also want to leverage all of the federal money that we can," he said. "There have been several grants that have been applied for and we are looking to several of our federal partners for help."

Cooper said the state will hold Pactiv Evergreen accountable. The company has also recently publicly disagreed with its updated tax valuation. Cooper called the issue a local matter, but said he thinks the valuation is accurate.

“It’s like knocking you down and stepping on you before they leave,” he said. “Pretty shameful to be making that request right now with the town in the situation that it is in.”

Cooper pointed to issues with the wastewater treatment plant and others as part of that situation.

Governor Roy Cooper, his wife Kristin and Senator Kevin Corbin pose together at Blue Moon Books.
Lilly Knoepp/BPR News
Governor Roy Cooper, his wife Kristin and Senator Kevin Corbin pose together at Blue Moon Books.

Senator Kevin Corbin, who represents Senate District 50, said the governor invited him to the visit together to show that there is bipartisan support for Canton.

“I think our message here today, being here both a Republican and a Democrat, we are working hand in hand to get money for Haywood County, money for Canton for relief of this situation that nobody here saw coming or could do anything about,” Corbin said.

He supported small business Maddie’s Shop on Main Street alongside Cooper by buying some medium tomato salsa and relish.

Corbin said he is asking for money for Haywood County, Canton and Haywood County School System in the state budget. Specifically, he wants to help with the loss of tax money for Haywood and Canton.

“It would be incredibly unfair to put the town and the county in a position where they are going to have to raise taxes on folks when they can least afford it to keep the services going," he said.

He said he expects the state budget to be voted on June 15th.

The mill is expected to close on June 9.

Canton Mayor Pro Temp Gail Mull poses at Maddie's on Main.
Lilly Knoepp/BPR News
Canton Mayor Pro Temp Gail Mull poses at Maddie's on Main.

Mayor Pro Tem Gail Mull was a longtime mill worker who worked at the union hall for 10 years. She said all of the machines have now been shut down.

“They did bring me a sheet from the last roll on [machines] 11, 12 and 19. So I have that,” Mull said.

Mull said her eyes are on Canton’s future.

“It’s sad but when one door shuts, five more open. We have to think that, so it’s a beginning not an end,” she said.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.