Officials attempt to keep Wrangler plant open

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 30, 2003

WINDSOR – On Monday, VF Jeanswear announced the closing of their Wrangler plant in Windsor. Twenty-four hours later, Steve Biggs, Bertie County’s Economic Development Director, announced an effort was underway to keep the production lines in operation at the 36-year-old plant.

&uot;Our top priority at this stage is to locate the available resources in order to keep the doors open at Wrangler,&uot; said Biggs in the wake of Monday’s announcement by VF Jeanswear, based in Greensboro. &uot;By 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, we had a group of organizations in place to share information on what measures need to be taken that would keep Wrangler open and in operation.&uot;

Following a rash of phone calls, Biggs had assembled the likes of the Bertie County Commissioners, Mid-East Commission, the Northeast Partnership, the Bertie/Windsor Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Windsor and the Employment Security Commission.

&uot;We made each and every effort to contact those we thought could offer us some assistance,&uot; noted Biggs. &uot;Together, we decided the best course of action at this time was to employ the use of two different strategies.&uot;

First on that list, according to Biggs, was to locate any resources from which the parent company could use to possibly keep the doors open at the Windsor location, a plant that employs 350 workers.

&uot;We will first contact the company to see if they are interested in our efforts to help them find the money that will keep the plant running in Windsor,&uot; stated Biggs. &uot;If they are interested in our help, then we’ll go out and seek those resources.&uot;

Biggs stated possible avenues to launch a search were through NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and from political leaders and other government agencies.

&uot;We will throw everything we can their (VF Jeanswear) way in an attempt to keep the plant open,&uot; stressed Biggs.

However, if the first strategy doesn’t work, Biggs said the group was prepared for what he called, &uot;plan B.&uot;

&uot;If we are not successful in our initial effort, then we must be prepared to use every resource at our disposal to help those workers in their time of need,&uot; said Biggs.

He went on to say that services such as loan/debt consolidation, how to maintain healthcare and workforce training to help these workers prepare for a change in careers would be the top priorities if the plant does close.

&uot;We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the plant will remain open,&uot; stressed Biggs. &uot;But at the same time, we’ve got to be prepared for the consequences of the plant closing. Then, those workers become our immediate priority. We have to be ready to handle their requests for assistance.&uot;

Biggs also did not rule out the possibility that another company could relocate to the Windsor facility, located off US 13/17 on County Farm Road.

&uot;Wrangler owns that building and with their permission, we could use the Northeast Partnership to market the location and possibly attract another business,&uot; Biggs stated. &uot;We are leaving no stone unturned in this process.&uot;

In addition, Biggs said that a Job Fair is on the drawing board in case the plant does close and a suitable replacement company is not located.

&uot;We would invite companies to come in and share information on what they do and what they’re looking for in employees,&uot; concluded Biggs. &uot;We would much rather prefer having Wrangler keeping the doors open here in Windsor, but if or when they close we want to be ready to help those employees find jobs.&uot;

On Monday, VF Jeanswear announced the closing of the Windsor facility and a reduction in the workforce at their Wilson location. All totaled, 892 workers will be affected.

&uot;This year has been a very challenging one for the apparel industry, as well as for our company,&uot; said Sam Tucker, Vice President of Human Resources for VF Jeanswear. &uot;We continue to face a slowing economy and tough retail environment. In order to remain competitive and profitable, we found it necessary to make these extremely difficult decisions.&uot;

The company will make severance packages available to all affected employees and will assist those workers in locating opportunities with other employers.

According to Windsor plant manager Bob Brown, the business opened as Blue Bell 36 years ago. It was later purchased by Wrangler, now VF Jeanswear.

&uot;It was hard telling our many faithful employees about the closing,&uot; said Brown. &uot;Some of those workers have been here for over 30 years.&uot;

News of the closing sent shockwaves through this small town, prompting concern among other businesses. It also came at a time when Bertie County was celebrating the fact that a new state prison, one in the planning stages for near Windsor, will employ over 400 workers plus countless others during the two-year construction phase.

&uot;This is a major loss for Bertie County,&uot; said Russ Russell, the co-owner of Bunn’s Barbecue in downtown Windsor who is also a Windsor Town Commissioner. &uot;Our business, as well as many others, will feel the aftershock of this many people losing their jobs all at the same time. Those workers down at Wrangler have been regular customers of ours for a mighty long time.&uot;

Unless efforts are successful to save the business, the plant is expected to close by the end of September.