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IP to close Franklin sawmill

FRANKLIN, VA — International Paper Co. will close its Franklin sawmill by May 31, eliminating 123 jobs.

The company also announced employee reductions at its sheet converting plant and Converting Innovation Center (CIC), both located in Franklin. The reductions at the sheet plant and CIC will affect approximately 25 and 10 employees, respectively. The reductions are scheduled to be completed by June 30. Additionally, company officials also announced the closing of IP’s corrugated container plant, located in Chesapeake, in early June. Approximately 100 jobs will be lost by that closure.

“The company carefully reviewed all available options and ultimately determined that, due to the continued downturn in the U.S. lumber and housing market, continuing to operate the lumber mill was not economically feasible,” said Carl Buck, manager of the Franklin lumber mill. “We do not underestimate the impact of this decision on our hard-working employees who have always performed well, but unfortunately are caught up in a volatile economy. We will do all we can to assist them with any questions or concerns that arise during the closure process.”

Employees were told of the sawmill’s closure during a 2 p.m. meeting held on March 31. Two hours later, few workers remained on-site after being told they could go home to digest the news. There was some activity in the yard, however, as tractor-trailers were observed bringing in hauls of timber.

IP’s decision to reduce the number of employees at its sheet plant and Converting Innovation Center is due to a lack of orders from customers, officials said.

“At times like these, our main concern is for the affected employees,” said Jim Shumate, manager of the sheet converting plant. “The team at our plant continues to operate well, yet our orders from our customers are down. Our company is committed to managing our supply to meet the needs of our customers, which is the driving force behind this business decision. It in no way reflects the hard work and dedication of our outstanding sheeter team.”

“Our Converting Innovation Center team is top-rate,” said Chris Schafer, manager, CIC. “Our group of dedicated employees recently surpassed more than four years without an OSHA recordable safety incident, which is a testament to the dedication in the way our team members perform their jobs every day. We will provide the affected employees with as much information as possible and will be assisting them through this difficult process.”

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill said he was saddened by the news of the saw mill’s closure.

“I’m just disappointed and devastated,” Councill said. “This was the last saw mill in the International Paper system. It’s just heartbreaking that it’s going to go out of existence. It’s also sad for the city because 123 families are going to be affected.”

The saw mill’s closure also brings an end to more than 122 years of there being a saw mill in Franklin on the Blackwater River. Parke Rouse’s book “The Timber Tycoons: The Camp families of Virginia and Florida and their empire 1887-1987,” which was published in 1988, said six Camp brothers purchased an existing saw mill alongside the Blackwater River in 1887.

Camp family descendant John M. “Jack” Camp Jr. said he was “devastated” to hear the news.

Camp’s grandfather, Paul Douglas Camp, was the first president of the company.

“I was not surprised (that it’s closing), just disappointed,” the 90-year-old said during a telephone conversation from his Wilmington, N.C., home. “Anyone who watches the news knows the housing market isn’t good.”

Camp said he was saddened for the community and for the workers.

“It’s a wonderful mill,” he said. “A good, loyal crew who worked hard to keep it going. It’s been a real benefit to the people, and I hate to see it close.”

(Charlie Passut is a Staff Writer for the Tidewater News in Franklin, Va., a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.)