By Karen Brune Mathis
In Springfield north of Downtown, the country’s largest cigar exporter rolls, labels, packs and ships out up to 14 million products a day.
The seller of a third of the nation’s cigars, Swisher International Inc. traces its history to Ohio, where merchant David Swisher received a small cigar factory as a debt settlement.
His grandson, Carl, moved it to Jacksonville in 1924, where it employs about 1,100 workers and where it makes Swisher Sweets, the No. 1 brand of cigars in the country.
Swisher, known historically for its famous King Edward cigars, has grown its product lines through acquisition and invention.
There’s a detectable scent of grape on the factory floor of the more than 600,000-square-foot plant, which takes up about five blocks. The address is 459 E. 16th St.
Grape is one of at least 10 flavors of the products, in addition to the original blends. The products are distributed from a warehouse at the Jacksonville International Tradeport.
Swisher makes smokeless products at a plant in Wheeling, Va.
Swisher President and CEO J. Thomas Ryan said business has been steady during the recessionary and slow-growth economy.
“With this economy, everyone is having a share of difficulty,” he said.
Federal tobacco tax increases resulted in higher prices and more regulations resulted in adjustments, including a higher level of promotion.
For example, some consumers can better afford cigars by the two- or three-pack rather than the five-pack. Packaging also allows retailers to sell 25 cigars one at a time.
There’s also the mini cigarillo, which can be consumed in less time, given the cutbacks in smoking breaks at workplaces.
“Those adjustments are constant,” he said.
Ryan doesn’t foresee much change in the economy for the next couple of years, but he is optimistic that state lawmakers will pay attention to the requests of the Manufacturers Association of Florida, which is calling for a change in the state’s incentives to attract more manufactures to invest in the state.
As the company recognizes its 150th anniversary of existence, it marks its 87th year in Jacksonville.
“Jacksonville has been very good to us,” he said.