- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Italian tissue maker Sofidel Group is buying plants in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, continuing its American expansion.

Green Bay Converting is selling the plants in the deal announced Thursday. No overall price was given. Sofidel says it will invest $120 million to buy and expand the Hattiesburg operation over the next five years.

Green Bay Converting has been building a $48 million, 400,000 square-foot plant in Hattiesburg. Sofidel will take it over, with plans to hire 230 to 260 employees and start production by December. Green Bay Converting had been scheduled to employ at least 300 people in the plant, but Mississippi Development Authority spokeswoman said Sofidel will need fewer workers even as it adds production lines because it will invest more in advanced machinery.

MDA and local authorities will transfer more than $12.6 million of incentives from Green Bay to Sofidel.

Green Bay Converting will keep operating in an existing Hattiesburg location with 100 employees, Newell said.

“This is quite a coup for our community as GBC remains and Sofidel, a global paper producer, enters the market,” wrote economic developer Chad Newell, CEO of the Area Development Partnership. “It’s a win for everyone involved and certainly a huge victory for our region.”

Newell said the deal has been in the works since the summer, when Green Bay Converting approached officials about selling to Sofidel.

Sofidel said Thursday that it also plans a new plant in Circleville, Ohio, having recently opened a plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and an American headquarters in Philadelphia. The company said it plans to invest $300 million in American expansion through 2017, with an emphasis on setting up plants across the country close to customers. Sofidel also has plants in Haines City, Florida and Henderson, Nevada.

Tony Curtis, head of Sofidel’s American unit, said proximity to customers was a “key consideration” in leading to the Hattiesburg purchase.

Owned by the Stefani and Lazzareschi families, Sofidel says it’s the world’s sixth-largest tissue paper maker, with about $2.3 billion in revenue in 2014. The company entered the United States when it bought another company in 2012, and has been focusing on private-brand tissue, especially for use outside the home.

“The U.S. market is a key market for our group, because it is first in the world in terms of per capita consumption in the tissue sector,” CEO Luigi Lazzareschi said in a statement.

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