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    Philip Morris to Upgrade North Carolina Plant

    Company to invest $200 million to improve production in Concord.

    CONCORD, N.C. -- Philip Morris USA announced $200 million in upgrades to its Concord cigarette plant Tuesday, a move that's expected to help secure the plant's 2,600 existing jobs, reported the Charlotte Observer.

    State and local leaders provided millions in incentives to attract the investment, which was $60 million more than local leaders had expected.

    Philip Morris is now the county's second-largest private employer, after NorthEast Medical Center. The average wage at the Concord plant is $917 per week.

    The Cabarrus plant makes Marlboro brand cigarettes for U.S. and overseas markets.

    Philip Morris's decision to upgrade the plant comes as the American cigarette industry faces an uncertain future.

    Although overseas tobacco sales are growing, U.S. cigarette consumption is in decline. The industry also is battling a $280 billion lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department, which says the industry deceived Americans about the hazards of smoking and promoted its products to young people.

    Philip Morris said the Cabarrus upgrades will make that plant more efficient. Of the investment, $140 million would cover the installation of 12 high-speed cigarette-manufacturing modules to replace 18 lower-speed ones. That will allow the plant to produce 15 percent more cigarettes with the same number of workers.

    "The productivity will go up so they can compete here," Gov. Mike Easley said in announcing the upgrades.

    The cigarette giant, based in Richmond, Va., also is installing an automated system for moving cigarette paper and other materials from a 10-story storage building to the production floor.

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