Smurfit, a familiar name in Jacksonville when the city was known for the smell of paper mills in the 1980s and 1990s, is making a comeback in Northeast Florida.
Dublin, Ireland-based Smurfit Kappa Group and Atlanta-based WestRock Co., which operates several facilities in Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach, announced a merger agreement Sept. 12.
The merged company will be known as Smurfit WestRock and headquartered in Dublin, with a North and South American headquarters in Atlanta.
It will be a return to the past for the Northeast Florida facilities, which were once a part of the Smurfit paper and packaging empire.
The companies’ Jacksonville roots go back to 1981 when Jefferson Smurfit Group’s U.S. subsidiary completed the acquisition of the Alton Box Board Co., which had a plant in Jacksonville.
The plant operated under the Jefferson Smurfit name until 1998, when the U.S. subsidiary merged with Stone Container Corp., which also had Northeast Florida facilities, to form Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.
Paper was a major Jacksonville industry in the late 20th century and the city became known for the odor generated by the mills.
However, Tommy Hazouri, Jacksonville mayor from 1987 to 1991, made ridding the stench a key part of his agenda and the mills cleaned up their act to a large extent by the time Smurfit-Stone was formed.
Dublin-based Jefferson Smurfit Group ended up with 29% of the stock of Smurfit-Stone in the merger but distributed its stake to its shareholders in 2002, ending its association with the U.S. company.
In 2005, Jefferson Smurfit merged with Netherlands-based Kappa Packaging to form Smurfit Kappa.
Smurfit-Stone was saddled with debt and filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 2009. After emerging from bankruptcy in 2010, it was acquired by RockTenn Co. the following year.
In 2015, RockTenn merged with MeadWestvaco Corp. to form WestRock.
Smurfit WestRock will have 100,000 employees operating in 42 countries. The two companies combined produced $34 billion in revenue in the 12 months through June 30.
Westrock’s annual report said the company had 292 packaging and paper plants in five countries.
The company’s web page lists seven plants and office locations in Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach.
The annual report said its containerboard mill in Fernandina Beach produced 950,000 tons of linerboard last year but gives no other information about the Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach operations.
Westrock’s media relations department did not respond to requests for information about its current employment in Northeast Florida.
Smurfit Kappa shareholders will own 50.4% of Smurfit WestRock after the merger, which is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2024.
Smurfit Kappa CEO Tony Smurfit will be chief executive of the merged company.
“Smurfit WestRock will be the ‘Go-To’ packaging partner of choice for customers, employees and shareholders,” he said in a news release.
“We will have the leading assets, a unique global footprint in both paper and corrugated, a superb consumer and specialty packaging business, significant synergies, and enhanced scale to deliver value in the short, medium and long term.”