Fort James Corp. of Chicago, a leading U.S. maker of commercial plastic cutlery, is eliminating almost 120 jobs by closing its plastic cutlery plant in Houston.
Company officials said the closing, which could be effective by midsummer, is intended to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
More than 100 of the Houston plant's 230 jobs will be transferred to a cutlery facility in Los Angeles, while a dozen more will move to Leominster, Mass.
The Houston closing is tied into Fort James' decision to discontinue production of free-fall polypropylene cutlery, straws and stirrers.
The Houston plant was the only one of the company's three plastic cutlery plants that was heavily dedicated to the free-fall process, in which items are loosely packaged in boxes, according to Richard Elder, Fort James' vice president of corporate communications.
Officials said the company will instead focus on manufacturing its Dixie-brand dense-pack cutlery, which is more tightly assembled before being shipped.
``Dense pack is a better process in many different ways,'' Elder said. ``Free-fall is more on the commodity side. Eventually, we want to be completely out of [free-fall].''
Fort James was formed in August through a merger of Fort Howard Corp. of Green Bay, Wis., and James River Corp. of Richmond, Va. The company's overall annual sales are more than $7 billion, including brand names such as Brawny, Dixie and Mardi Gras.
Elder said the Houston cutlery plant was going to be closed regardless of the merger.
The Houston plant closing — as well as the shutdown of a wax-coated film wrap plant in Menasha, Wis., announced at the same time — are part of a companywide effort to eliminate 2,500 jobs through rationalization of its manufacturing facilities.
To date, the firm has eliminated 650 positions. Elder said he did not expect any more plastics-related job cuts to be made this year.
Since late 1996, James River/Fort James has sold its flexible packaging unit and its share in WinCup Holdings LP, a major producer of expanded polystyrene foam cups and containers.
James River ranked sixth in Plastics News' 1997 ranking of North American thermoformers with $100 million in sales.