DALTON -- Crane & Co. bolstered its stationery division on Thursday when the paper manufacturer announced it had reached an agreement to acquire a competitor based in Maine and bring that operation to its North Adams plant.
Crane plans to buy William Arthur, a stationery firm located in West Kennebunk, from its parent company, Hallmark Cards Inc. Crane will consolidate the two companies at its facility on Curran Highway in North Adams by the second half of next year.
The consolidated company will continue as Crane Stationery, and operate under the current division president, Katie Lacey. But it will offer three brands: William Arthur, Vera Wang, which the Maine company also makes, and Crane. William Arthur forged a licensing partnership with Vera Wang in 2005. Crane makes fine stationery paper in addition to printing the paper for U.S. currency.
"Our goal is to nurture all three brands and be a multiple supplier of fine stationery," said Crane's CEO Stephen P. DeFalco. "I think it gives us flexibility in the marketplace. We can use the brands to go after different customer segments."
The consolidation will result in no job cuts at Crane, which employs around 300 workers in its stationery division, according to DeFalco. He said Crane will offer to relocate William Arthur's 270 employees to Berkshire County.
"We hope that they take relocation," DeFalco said.
The acquisition is expected to close on Nov. 30. Both companies are privately owned and
North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said that Crane officials told him that the consolidation of the two companies will create 100 new jobs at the city's plant.
"I believe those people will have first dibs at these jobs," Alcombright said, referring to William Arthur employees in Maine. "Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I can't imagine that a lot of people will be moving down here from Maine."
Unemployment in the city of North Adams is 7.7 percent, over a point higher than the jobless rate in both Massachusetts and Berkshire County.
Alcombright called Crane's consolidation plan "the best economic news" for the city since he took office in 2009.
"It further solidifies Crane's footprint in the city," he said. "It almost makes us like the world headquarters for Crane's portion of this business."
A worldwide drop-off in the demand for personalized stationery caused Crane to cut 92 positions in its stationery division in 2009. The company then announced that it planned to close its North Adams plant to consolidate its three stationery facilities at a single location in Pittsfield.
But in August, Crane announced that it planned to eliminate 55 jobs by the end of this year as part of a consolidation plan designed to rejuvenate its stationery business, and that it had decided to relocate all of those operations in North Adams instead of Pittsfield.
DeFalco, who became Crane's CEO in 2011, said the company's decision to acquire William Arthur is related to that plan.
"Everything has been superseded by the plan that we announced in August," DeFalco said. "It's the same theme -- we're moving to a similar facility. But the facility that we chose was North Adams."
He referred to William Arthur as a "great brand" that along with Crane is one of the "two premier providers of fine stationery."
As the stationery business has changed, DeFalco said Crane and William Arthur have continued to focus on the more profitable, high-quality end of the market, which includes items like wedding invitations and thank you notes.
"I think it makes us a stronger entity," DeFalco said.
Hallmark spokeswoman Julie O'Dell said the Kansas City-based company decided to let William Arthur go because the Maine company's product lines and Crane's are "fairly similar."
William Arthur, founded as Ten Bamboo Studio in Wellesley in 1949, moved to Maine in the late 1980s, and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Hallmark Cards in 1997. The company adopted its current name in 1987. William and Arthur are the first and second names of the firm's current co-owner, William DeJonge.
"They're consumer and distribution channels are very different from Hallmark's core consumer," O'Dell said. "This allows us to focus on our core greeting card categories."
DeFalco said Crane's employees were excited when he informed them of the consolidation plan on Thursday.
"It was a great day to be a CEO," he said.
He said Crane's North Adams facility will not have to be expanded to fit the increase of new employees. But Alcombright said the city plans to offer Crane financial assistance.
"We're talking about tax incentives to help facilitate this process," Alcombright said. "We should have something before the City Council in two or three weeks."
Founded in 1801, Crane & Co. has manufactured currency paper for the U.S. government since 1879, and been its whole supplier since 1964. One of the county's largest employers, Crane has 876 employees in Berkshire County, and more than 1,000 worldwide.
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