Tapped-out demand for beer partly blamed for layoffs

Less demand for beer and more use of cans has cut the need for glass containers, like those produced at the Owens-Illinois plant on Sylvan Road. (AJC file photo)
Less demand for beer and more use of cans has cut the need for glass containers, like those produced at the Owens-Illinois plant on Sylvan Road. (AJC file photo)

A global manufacturer of glass has confirmed plans to close its Atlanta facility next month, laying off about 270 people, most of them hourly workers.

Owens-Illinois, Inc., which is based in Ohio, will shutter the Sylvan Road facility around July 18, according to a spokeswoman at the $6.9 billion-a-year company.

The decision to close the Atlanta plant was shaped by two factors – one operational, one a matter of a changing market, according to a written statement from the company.

First, was the need for investments in the plant. But the second was what the company called “continued decline of beer in the domestic market.”

Overall U.S. beer sales were down 1 percent last year, according to the Brewers Association. Moreover, the preference for bottles has been slipping – cans are taking more of the market.

In 2017, the domestic beer industry sold 207.4 million barrels of beer – the equivalent of more than 2.9 billion cases of 24 containers, each with 12 ounce servings, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

With the shuttering of the Atlanta plant, the supply of Owens-Illinois products and the demand of its customers “will be roughly balanced,” the statement said.

The company will close the plant “in a respectful manner,” wrote Janet Galecki, the director of communications in the Americas for the company in an email message. “Employees will be eligible for appropriate separation benefits.”

The plant’s customers are primarily companies in “the mainstream domestic beer industry,” she said.

The current customers of the Atlanta facility will receive their packaging from other Owens-Illinois plants in the United States, according to Galecki. The company has more than 26,500 employees worldwide.

Georgia has about 401,000 manufacturing jobs, up slightly in the past year. About 8.9 percent of the 4.5 million jobs in the state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.