Packaging giant Bemis Co., a firm with a 130-year history in the Twin Cities, is closing a plant in St. Louis Park and will close one in Minneapolis by year's end.
The closings will leave 158 people looking for work -- 96 employees at the Minneapolis operation and 62 at the St. Louis Park plant. Both factories make flexible packaging for food under the Curwood brand, a division of Bemis.
Bemis has been drifting away from the Twin Cities for decades. In 2006, the company moved its corporate headquarters to Neenah, Wis., a Fox Valley town that was a center for the paper industry and has evolved into a packaging hub. The company had been growing in Wisconsin, not Minnesota, and wanted to move its executives closer to its geographic center.
Melanie Miller, a vice president and treasurer for Bemis, said the two Twin Cities plants slated for closing came under Bemis' control -- along with 21 other facilities -- when the company acquired Alcan in 2010 for $1.2 billion. Bemis has other factories that produce the same products.
The St. Louis Park plant will close by Aug. 31, and the Minneapolis plant will close between Oct. 1 and the end of 2012, according to letters that Bemis sent to state officials. Workers in St. Louis Park are getting help with finding new jobs, training and some financial assistance from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Bemis calls itself the nation's largest producer of plastic packaging. It makes packaging for everything from diapers to grass seed to snacks, as well as pressure-sensitive packaging and sealed plastic for medical products. Revenue in 2011 was $5.3 billion. It has about 45 factories in North America, as well as operations in Europe, Latin America, Australia and Asia.
Bemis first opened a factory in Minneapolis in 1881 -- the golden days of flour milling -- to serve companies such as General Mills and Pillsbury. Judson Moss Bemis, 25-year-old son of a farmer, started the company in St. Louis in 1858, making cloth bags for shipping flour and seed. The company pioneered the manufacture of burlap bags, then moved on to paper and plastic.
By the 1950s, the company was making all sorts of packaging, moved its headquarters to Minneapolis and built a research and development facility there. Judson Sandy Bemis, one of the founder's grandsons, was a prominent Twin Cities figure and founder of what is today the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas.
But it was under his tenure that the geographic center of the company began to shift to Wisconsin. In 1965, Bemis acquired Curwood, a polymer plastics innovator in Oshkosh that changed how food companies packaged cheese and meat. Curwood became one of Bemis' most precious businesses, and its founder, Howard Curler, was named CEO of the entire company in 1977. His son Jeff Curler was CEO of Bemis when it moved its headquarters to Neenah in 2006.
Bemis now has two small facilities left in Minnesota -- Bemistape in Minneapolis and Perfecseal in Mankato. Bemistape makes the string pull openings for bags of charcoal or dog food. The Mankato facility is part of Bemis' growing medical and pharmaceutical packaging division, Miller said.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405