Mill closing hits hard in R-C area

Published 12:32 pm Thursday, October 29, 2009

FRANKLIN, Va. – Last week’s announcement by International Paper regarding the closure of its Franklin, Va. mill leaves over 200 Roanoke-Chowan area citizens without jobs. According to numbers provided by International Paper, 217 members of its workforce at the Franklin mill listed North Carolina addresses. Of that number, Gates County leads the way with 84 workers. Hertford County (73), Northampton County (43) and Bertie County (7) also saw some of its residents affected by the closure. The remaining 10 North Carolina based workers hail from Chowan County, Perquimans County and Halifax County. Gates County Manager Toby Chappell said he had “invited himself” to a meeting planned for yesterday (Wednesday) in Franklin where leaders from across the region will discuss the impact of the mill’s closure. “For the 84 Gates County families affected, this is a significant issue that no one wanted to see,” Chappell said. “Our thoughts are with those families as well as all those whose way of life was affected with this announcement.” He continued, “Gates County administration is already working to help locate the resources that our citizens affected by this closure can potentially benefit from.” Chappell said those resources included making sure that their unemployment insurance is handled correctly as well as contacting the North Carolina Community College system to see what types of re-training opportunities are available. According to an article in the Tidewater News, Franklin City Manager June Fleming said an exploratory meeting involving municipal and county officials in the region was scheduled for Wednesday in the Workforce Development Center at Paul D. Camp Community College in Franklin.

“From our standpoint, what we want to see addressed is what’s next in this issue,” Chappell stated. “What options are available to get these 1,100 people, including the 84 in Gates County, back to work as soon as possible?” Chappell said he was also concerned about what type of ripple effect this closure will have on the northeastern North Carolina/southside Virginia area. “What about our local logging operations; what about those businesses that provided goods and services to the Franklin mill,” Chappell questioned. “The initial news that 84 Gates County citizens will be without jobs is tragic within itself, but this closure runs deeper than that. It will be a ripple effect felt all over the local and regional economy. We need to be cognizant of what other businesses this will effect.” “We’re going to brainstorm ideas about what we could do to recover and assess what the impact could be,” Fleming said. The loss of revenue will likely have serious impacts on local government, especially in Franklin and Isle of Wight County. Fleming said that the city’s Finance Department is working to figure out exactly what the impact of the mill’s closure will be on the budget for this fiscal year and for the next fiscal year. Meanwhile, a hastily compiled report released late last week by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership predicts that 2,400 other jobs in the region would be lost as a result of the closure — in addition to those people directly employed at IP. For the purposes of the report, the region includes, Franklin, Isle of Wight, Suffolk, Southampton, Surry and Sussex. Those job losses will be in economic sectors that provide support for the mill’s operations and are among businesses that provide goods and services to those employed there, VEDP predicted. According to the report, leading sectors for additional job losses will include automotive repair and maintenance, logging, maintenance and repair of nonresidential buildings, medical services, real estate, restaurants, retail trade, services to buildings and dwellings, trucking services and wholesale trade. Looking at an even broader picture, the report predicts that 700 more Virginia jobs outside of the immediate region will be lost as a result of the closure, putting the total expected job losses at 4,200. IP made the announcement concerning the Franklin mill at a Thursday morning news conference. The closure affects 1,100 mill employees. (Charlie Passut, a Staff Writer for the Tidewater News in Franklin, Va., and R.E. Spears II, News Editor for the Suffolk, Va. News-Herald, both sister publications of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, contributed to this story.)