FRANKLIN, Va. - InternationalPaper announced Thursday it will cease operation atits Franklin plant. A total of 1,100 jobs will be lost.
International Paper explained at a news conference that salesare down 20 percent and they've been managing with down time, butthe market is simply not returning. "We are simply caught up in arecession," International Paper's Franklin mill manager JeannineSiembida explained. "It is not a reflection of its employees.....This facility will not make paper again. This is a permanentclosure."
It's been a tough year for the plant. In November, 2008, theplant lost 50 jobs and in May of this year the plant lost 155jobs.
Calling it a devastating loss is likely an understatement as theplant makes up 25 percent of the county's revenue. Thursday's newswill have a tremendous economic impact on employees, localgovernments and schools in Isle of Wight and surroundingcounties.
"This is just like a death to our family. It's something that'sgoing to take us a long time to get over," said Isle of WightCounty's Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Phillip Bradshaw.
The reality of a global recession hit the economic engine thatin various forms has been a part of the Franklin community for morethan a century. In the 1800s the Camp family made the lumberindustry a thriving opportunity for the region. By 1937, paperbecame a path to jobs and prosperity. In 1999 the Union CampCorporation merged with International Paper. Workers who haverelied on the mill and it's associated plants have watched theworkforce take hits in the last year with temporary shut downs,layoffs, and in the spring of 2009, the closure of the lumber mill.Now, after more than a century of serving as a key employers, allof the plants in the Franklin area will close. Eleven hundredworkers will lose their jobs.
Siembida announced the phase out will begin on November 7, whenone machine will shut down. She explained a 20 percent decline indemand for IP's products means a smaller workforce is needed.
Siembida says IP executives and union representative willnegotiate severance packages for employees. In a few days, theVirginia Employment Commission will send a team to help workerstransition to other work or training programs. Gordon Hickey, arepresentative with the Governor's Office, said the VirginiaEmployment Commission will be working with employees of the mill inthe coming days. Hickey also says the Governor's Office will besetting up an Economic Crisis Strike Force to help the workers.
The tasks ahead in the next days, weeks and months hung over theconference room where Siembida made the announcement. Electedleaders sat silently listening. More than one shed quiet tears."Our entire economy relies upon the employees and the businessesthat is supported by them...they are completely dependent upon thismill," Franklin Mayor Jim Councill told WAVY.com. "My first thoughtwas: 'The people that have families, how are they going to feedtheir families? How are they going to pay their mortgages.' It justbreaks my heart to think of challenges that are going to be facedright now."
Southampton County Administrator, Mike Johnson said, "I don'tthink we can fathom the impact that closing this mill will have onour community."
An emotional Bradshaw said,"First of all, we're going to haveto pray for all these families. All these workers and theirfamilies, and everybody in the community." Twenty-five percent ofIsle of Wight's revenue comes directly from IP.
Bradshaw shared with WAVY.com that his concern is from theperspective of an elected leader, as well as one who has livedthrough loss, after working at the plant for nearly 20 years.
"I was laid off with the particle board plant last year. So Iwent through being unemployed for six or seven months," heexplained.
Intertwined with their concern for friends and neighbors, Isleof Wight, Southampton, and Franklin leaders share responsibilityfor the financial survival of the localities.
"We've got to go to work. We've been working hard to bring otherindustries to diversify. We knew that needed to be done," Councillsaid. The communities have already proven an ability to endure andthrive after hardship. In the past decade, after Hurricane Floyd in1999, the people and the plant rose from the devastation of theBlackwater River's rising banks. It's is still too soon, to see howrecovery will come.
At the local Fred's Restaurant on Main Street news of theclosing left a bad taste in the mouths of patrons. John Buchananretired from the mill after more than 30 years. Now his son whofollowed him to International Paper is losing his job.
"I thought they would be able to work through this bad economylike the company had in the past. The 70's was a bad time whenpeople lost some time but they didn't close the plant down," hesaid.
Buchanan says his son has a mortgage, a vehicle and a family tosupport. "When his supervisor called and gave him the news he wasat my house. You know it's just taken a little while for that tosoak in. Obviously the thoughts go through your mind, 'what am Igoing to do now?'"
The downsizing of the mill seven years ago forced Molly Blytheto leave the mill after working as a paper tester and says she'sshocked.
"I thought it might become a three-paper machine mill. This isemotional.... I never thought it would close," she said. "There aresome couples that the husband and wife both work there with smallchildren. What are we going to do?"
Blythe is left to wonder how could this happen and says it'sdevastating. However, there is hope.
Siembida acknowledged that as of now, there are no plans totransfer any Franklin area employees to other IP plants. She addedthough, "We've been through a flood, we've been through other joblosses, but this team is resilient." Bradshaw said, "We're going tomake some contacts and start planning to see what we can do to helppeople overcome this and help us overcome it as a community."
International Paper operations in Louisiana, Oregon and Oklahomawill also be shut down.
Below is a statement from Governor Kaine on the plant's closure:
"International Paper's intended closing of its Franklin facility as part of planned actions nationwide is a deep blow to the community and the Commonwealth. This plant has long served as an economic asset for the area and its phased closing is most distressing. My heart goes out to the affected workers and their families, as well as all others who will be affected by this closure. To ease some of the impact of the closing and help support the approximately 1,100 families directly affected by this action, I am instructing the Virginia Employment Commission to work with the appropriate authorities to dispatch an Economic Crisis Strike Force to Franklin in the coming days."
Gubernatorial Candidate Bob McDonnell released the following statement regarding the plant's closure:
"For over a century the paper industry has been an indispensable part of the economy and culture of Franklin City, Suffolk City, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. With today's closing of the International Paper mill 1100 jobs will be lost and my thoughts are with all the workers and their families. We know that a closing like this will not be easy to recover from. But we also know that the people of this region are resilient and strong, as we witnessed in the recovery from the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. This is a tough moment. But, working together, we will get new jobs created in this area and get the men and women of the International Paper mill back to work, with the good paying jobs that they need and deserve. Creating good jobs all across Virginia has been the focus of our campaign, and it will be my unrelenting focus as governor. Together, we will get our economy turned around and create new jobs in Franklin and all across Virginia."
Democratic nominee for Governor Sen. Creigh Deeds releasedthe following statement:
"The news of the closure of the International Paper Mill in Franklin is a devastating blow to the community. My thoughts are with the many families of those affected by this terrible news. This is a reminder that as Virginia works to emerge from the national economic downturn, we must do so by joining together, reaching across party lines, and by being honest about both the problems we face and the solutions we propose."
Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor Jody Wagnerreleased the following statement regarding International Paper'sannouncement:
"My heart goes out to the workers and their families who learned today that they will find themselves without employment next April. It is a sign of the depth of economic turmoil that a company who has called Virginia home for over a century is forced to close its doors, leaving nearly 1,100 Virginians without work. This is not a time for politics-Democrats and Republicans must come together to move the Commonwealth forward, putting Virginians back to work, and sowing the seeds of economic opportunity for future generations."
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