COVINGTON — WestRock Co., the largest employer in the Alleghany Highlands, will invest $248 million in its manufacturing operations in Covington and Alleghany County.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced in Covington on Tuesday the company’s plans to purchase new equipment and retrain existing workers. WestRock makes bleached paperboard at a sprawling plant that is visible from many parts of Covington along the Jackson River. The company converts that product into packaging that is used globally.

“When we have companies like WestRock willing to invest and stay in Virginia, that’s meaningful to Virginia,” Northam told a crowd at the city’s downtown farmers market.

The new equipment will go to the plants in Covington and Low Moor, which together employ about 1,100 people with annual wages and salaries of more than $134 million. The Covington paper mill dates to 1899 and the Low Moor facility was built in the 1980s.

The project will be aided by a $2 million performance-based grant from the Virginia Jobs Investment Partnership program, as well as money from the Virginia Jobs Investment Partnership for retraining of 50 employees. It is also eligible for tax incentives associated with the Alleghany Highlands Enterprise Zone.

“Those jobs are going to remain here in the Alleghany Highlands into the future,” U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said.

The $248 million will be invested over the next five years. Mark Lukacs, senior vice president of consumer paperboard operations at WestRock, said the company has invested $590 million since 2011. Most recently, it installed a green energy boiler in 2014 that cost $290 million.

“We look forward to a very bright and long-term future here,” Lukacs said.

Lukacs said the new investments will allow the company to effectively compete globally as well as maintain its Covington and Low Moor facilities.

“The biggest thing it tells me is you’re not planning on going anywhere,” said Covington Mayor Thomas Sibold. “I call it nails in a coffin. You’re driving more nails into this place when you put that kind of investment in it, which tells me you’re going to be here maybe another 100 years.”

The Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corp. worked with the Roanoke Regional Partnership and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership on the deal.

WestRock was created in 2015 in a merger of Richmond-based MeadWestvaco Corp. and Georgia-based RockTenn Co. It’s the largest packaged exporter from the port of Virginia.

WestRock employs 3,500 people in Virginia and 45,000 around the world at more than 300 facilities.

“This is an integral part of the state’s economy, it’s an integral part of this area’s economy, and it’s important that we move forward,” state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said.

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