By JACK WEATHERLY
Faced with shrinking demand, the Batesville Casket Co. plant in Panola County will close its doors in March after nearly 30 years in operation.
Two hundred are employed at the plant, where hardwood coffins are assembled.
The plant was opened in 1988 because “we were looking for a plant located near the Vicksburg facility,” Indiana-based parent Batesville Casket Co. stated in a 2005 article in the Mississippi Business Journal.
A spokesman for the parent company did not immediately respond to questions from the Journal this week, including whether the Batesville closing would have an effect on the Vicksburg facility, which makes wooden components for caskets.
But the company said in an email on Wednesday that it “remains committed to its wood processing plant” at Vicksburg.
In a prepared statement released in November, Batesville President Chris Trainor said: “The demand for burial caskets has steadily declined over the last few decades and we believe that trend will continue for the next several years.
“Closing this small wood assembly plant will allow us to align our manufacturing output and consumer demand.”
The company said at the time that “in 2016, less than 50 percent of families in North America will choose burial, a decline of almost 15 percent over the past decade. The vast majority of those choosing burial will select a metal casket, further reducing the demand for solid-wood burial caskets.”
Volume of sales at the Mississippi plant has decreased by almost 50 percent since its peak in 2004.
Batesville Casket’s revenue in fiscal 2016 was down 5 percent from the previous year due the cremation trend, the company said in an earnings release. The company did not say in the Wednesday email where the work will be done, if at all. However,WREG, Channel 3, in Memphis reported earlier that the work in Batesville will be shifted to Mexico.
The company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hillenbrand Inc., a diversified corporation, also has assembly plants in Batesville,Ind.; Manchester, Tenn., and Chihuahua, Mexico.
Joe Azar, new director of the Panola Partnership, the community’s economic development agency, said of the shutdown, “We’re going to do something about it.
“We have some prospects.”