Cigarette sales down, Philip Morris closes its last N.C. plant

About 9 p.m. Wednesday, the last Marlboro cigarettes will roll off the line at the sprawling Philip Morris USA plant in Concord, N.C., as an era closes on a once-mighty tobacco presence in the state.

The move to shutter what was once one of the region's largest factories displaces about 1,000 more workers in Cabarrus County, already confronting its highest unemployment rate in at least 25 years. It also means the loss of the county's biggest taxpayer. And the recession makes it uncertain when the 2,023-acre site might land a new owner.

In June 2007, Philip Morris parent Altria said it would consolidate Concord's operations into its Richmond, Va., plant in 2010 in part because of falling U.S. cigarette sales. Nearly 2,500 people worked at the Concord plant at the time.

But in April, as the rate of cigarette sales kept dropping, Altria moved to end operations this month. Between 1996 and 2006, annual U.S. cigarette consumption fell by 24 percent.

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