Philip Morris USA, the country's leading cigarette manufacturer, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Richmond manufacturing center. We sat down with the company's CEO to talk about the impact Philip Morris has had on the community, and what its future holds.
Philip Morris first had a plant at Stockton and 20th Street in Richmond. Then the company built its manufacturing center next to Interstate 95 in 1973. On the outside, the building looks much the same today. Inside however, technology has advanced from producing 200 million cigarettes a day, to 600 million today.
Barbara Monroe has worked there entire time. "I was a box attender, did a lot of miscellaneous work, it was hard. Everything was basically manual. But as years went on, everything has gotten a little better." She looked at us, gleaming, "Technology."
Philip Morris USA President and CEO Billy Gifford, a 19 year veteran of the company himself, has watched Philip Morris and its parent company Altria grow. The company reports that taxes Altria paid, plus taxes paid on total tobacco sales, made up 6.6% of Virginia's tax revenue in 2012.
Philip Morris and Altria now employ nearly 4000 people locally. Said Gifford, "We actually have some 3rd and 4th generation families out on the floor, where their mother and father and grandmother and grandfather also worked here."
But as stability and longevity have been key to the company's past, it's finding adaptability is the key to their future.
As smoking rates decline, and electronic cigarettes have taken off, Altria is test marketing e-cigarette MarkTen right now in Indiana.
"What we want to gain from that is how the consumer ... what they want out of an e-cigarette, and that experience that they have," said Gifford.
Philip Morris won't have to put the FDA-proposed graphic warning labels on its boxes after a federal judge ruled them out. But the company now faces a challenge many companies face. It just ramped up hiring as baby boomers are retiring.
Said Gifford, "As with any company when you have people retire, you have to replace them. So we'll be looking for replacements for retirees as we go."
Monroe retires next year, a rare worker who actually worked for the same company her entire career.