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General Binding Corp., or GBC, expects to eliminate 250 Booneville jobs in the next year as the office products maker restructures.

The most labor-intensive of its office products will go to a Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, facility while some product lines will be made by other firms.

"This decision was a difficult one, because our Booneville employees have been exceptional in their dedication and performance over the years," said Dennis Martin, GBC chairman and CEO.

Office retailers and superstores such as Office Depot, Staples and Office Max are prime outlets for GBC's goods. But a shifting market and rocky economy have hurt the company in recent years.

In 2002, GBC posted a net loss of $80 million on sales of $702 million. Just two years earlier, the company had sales of $911 million with a net income of $2.4 million.

GBC, long known in Booneville by its Quartet brand name, will have 400 jobs remaining there by late next year. It once employed nearly 1,000 as the largest industrial employer in Prentiss County.

Local officials said they're recruiting industrial prospects but none on the horizon would be able to step in and absorb the lion's share of the lost jobs.

"It's going to put a hardship on a lot of people with the economy like it is," said Joe Wayne Garner, president of the Prentiss County Board of Supervisors. "But this is going to be (happening) over the next twelve months and I hope it will be gradual enough to give people time to find work."

Garner, Booneville Mayor Wayne Michael and Doug Mansell, executive director of the Prentiss County Development Association, will meet with GBC's Dave Lorenz today to talk about what can be done to ease the effect of the layoffs.

"They want to talk to us about some alternatives that may help us out," said Michael, who said rumors had been circulating about the plant's future. "But we're definitely going to lose 250 people."

The company announced the layoffs late in the day Thursday and Lorenz, who's vice president of operations, wasn't immediately available for comment.

In a statement, GBC said some targeted manufacturing operations will end at Booneville as soon as September and the entire restructuring will be completed by mid-2004.

Manufacturing of some office products, along with distribution, customer service and related support services will remain in Booneville, where the company operates a nearly 20-building plant in the Prentiss County Industrial Park.

In the announcement, Martin - the GBC chairman - said GBC will provide all affected Booneville employees with financial assistance and outplacement training.

The changes, he said, will enable GBC to become more competitive and provide customers with the best-value quality products.

Headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., GBC makes paper shredders and laminators in addition to visual communication aids such as blackboards and marker boards. Lane Industries - controlled by the family of founder William Lane Jr. - owns about two-thirds of GBC.

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