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Diamond brand sold but Cloquet plant isn't, 85 to lose jobs

Jarden Home Brands in Cloquet, as seen in this 2011 aerial photo, produces Diamond matches and toothpicks. The Diamond line of products produced in Cloquet was sold last month to Georgia-based Royal Oak Enterprises. The new owners decided not to take the more than 100-year-old Cloquet operation with them, and will close the facility sometime in the next six months. Pine Journal File Photo

Cloquet's match and toothpick factory is closing, and 85 people will lose their jobs as a result, owner Newell Brands announced Monday.

The announcement came as a shock to employees.

Steve Petoletti, president of the United Steel Workers Local 970 union at the match mill, said workers arrived for their shifts at 7 a.m. Monday and were told to go to the cafeteria for a meeting, where they learned the facility would be closing its doors sometime over the next six months.

"After they were done, they said they would pay us for the day and let the day and afternoon shifts go home," Petoletti said Tuesday. "They understood it was pretty drastic news. But everyone was back to work today."

The Cloquet plant produces Diamond matches and toothpicks, a business that Newell — which acquired Jarden Home Brands about a year ago — sold last month to Georgia-based Royal Oak Enterprises LLC. The new owners of the brand decided not to take the more than 100-year-old Cloquet operation with them.

A spokesperson said the New Jersey-based company had completed its sale of Pine Mountain fire starters and fire logs business as well as its Diamond matches, fire starters, lighters, toothpicks, clothespins and clotheslines business to Royal Oak.

"As part of the sale agreement, the company has retained the factory in Cloquet," the spokesperson said. "However, Newell Brands will no longer retain Diamond matches and toothpicks, which are manufactured at the facility. As a result, the company has made the difficult decision to close the Cloquet facility, which is expected to occur within six months."

According to an email from Cloquet Community Development Director Holly Hansen to the Cloquet City Council, Royal Oak toured the mill and decided not to keep it, leaving it in Newell's hands.

The news also came as a surprise to elected officials and staff from all levels of government.

Hansen got news of the closure Monday, and sent out an email informing the city's elected officials. She also said the donation of Jarden land to the Cloquet Area Fire District has already been finalized and isn't threatened by the sale.

Carlton County Commissioner Tom Proulx represents Cloquet and said Monday night that his first thought was to find out what can be done for the workers.

"It's a loss for everyone," Proulx said. "Eighty-five jobs — that's a lot."

In an update Tuesday, Proulx said the county had reached out to the offices of both U.S. Senators Klobuchar and Franken from Minnesota to let them know what's going on so the dislocated workers program can be ready for the employees when the time comes.

State Rep. Mike Sundin also said he talked to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Tuesday.

"There are safety nets in place," Sundin said. "Unfortunately, we've experienced this before in the state of Minnesota. But it's fortunate we have up to six months to work on this."

At Tuesday's Cloquet City Council meeting, At-Large Councilor Adam Bailey asked construction union officials if they will help the people losing jobs at the match mill find union jobs and training.

"We have been a proud partner in Cloquet for years, and are committed to ensuring ample resources and support for the 85 employees affected," said a statement from Newell Brands released Monday.

A VERY LONG HISTORY IN CLOQUET

The original Diamond Match Company building was made of wood in 1905 but the plant closed three years later because it was too far away from their match manufacturing plant. Some 20 years later, Diamond Match came back to Cloquet when they took over what was then the Berst-Forster-Dixfield match mill in 1928-1929.

Shortly after that, they made the logical decision to build a brick building.

Diamond continued making the same products that Berst-Forster-Dixfield had been making for a short time, including clothespins and tongue depressors which were made from birch trees. However, when the birch tree supply dwindled, Diamond stopped making the other products and focused on making matches from poplar trees.

When the new larger brick building was finished, complete with its new machines, Cloquet became the largest manufacturer of wood matches in the United States.

Sometimes the company even dipped into the political realm. During World War II, Diamond Match made matches to ship overseas. The matches were printed in several different languages with instructions printed on them how to derail trains and burn up supplies of the enemy. The matches were dropped by airplanes behind enemy lines, according a 2015 exhibit at the Carlton County Historical Society.

The company changed in many ways over the years: new warehouses were added, machines updated, plus experimentation with different products as well as mergers. Diamond Match became Diamond Gardner, Diamond National and Diamond International.

Jarden Home Brands bought the company, which had changed names several times in mergers over the years, out of bankruptcy in 2003 and continued to offer three Diamond products: toothpicks, kitchen matches and penny matches, as well as new products such as colored toothpicks and long-reach matches. Then Newell purchased Jarden last spring.

A Newell spokesman said the company does not have any long-term plans for the facility in Cloquet yet as they were focusing on the employees first.

"As always, the city will be a partner with the company moving forward," Hansen said, expressing hope that it can be sold to another company. "It's been here in some form or fashion for 100 years. It's really rooted in the City of Wood culture."

Proulx responded in the same way.

"I'd like to get ahead of this and get another business in there," he said. "So let's get an exploratory committee together and find out what we can do. We have more power when we all work together."

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