Particle-board plant makes payroll

Published 9:16 am Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FRANKLIN—ATC Panels was able to pay its workers last week, but only time will tell if the company will remain open, the plant manager said.

“We are very grateful for the commitment and understanding demonstrated by the entire ATC-Franklin team during that worrisome week,” said Plant Manager Tom Garrahan, who added that four more employees will be laid off April 3. “The likelihood that this plant will resume particleboard production in the near future is not high.”

The mill, located just outside the Franklin city limits in Isle of Wight County, produces particle boards used for building furniture, cabinets and the like. At its height, ATC employed more than 130 people, but changes in the furniture industry forced officials to start making cuts several years ago.

Fifteen employees were laid off March 13, leaving 20 hourly and salaried people still working. Those who remain worked, even though it wasn’t clear then that they would be paid.

“A resolution was reached with the bank that should assure us that we won’t have those cash flow problems again,” Garrahan said Tuesday.

Electrician David Smith has worked at the plant for eight years and said he was relieved to get paid.

“Right now we just have to take it one day at a time,” Smith said. “That’s all we can do.”

ATC laid off 90 workers in the fall of 2007. In October of last year, the company announced another series of cuts that left 34 more workers displaced, cutting its workforce by nearly half, officials said.

“It’s unfortunate when people lose their jobs,” said Franklin Southampton County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Teresa Beale, who added that families, businesses and the community as a whole are affected.

“It takes spendable money out of the community, which affects every retailer,” she said. “I hope, for everyone, that they can hang on and that things will turn around for them.”

John Smolak, president of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development, agreed.

“I hope they can survive the storm, even if they have to temporarily shut the operation down.”

Operations at two other ATC plants, one in Ontario, Canada, and another in North Carolina, were stopped months ago.

The mill, which used to be owned by Union Camp Corp., changed hands several times after International Paper bought all of Union Camp’s assets. The particle-board plant was sold to Aconcagua Holdings, a company formed in May 2004 by several Chilean investors.

Garrahan said the laid-off employees are being urged to use resources available from the Virginia Employment Commission and Opportunity Inc. Employees are qualified for Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) benefits. TAA is a program administered by VEC that provides supplemental benefits to employees who have lost their jobs due to imports. Those supplemental benefits include assistance with education or retraining, relocation, health insurance and other items.