‘Just like a death to our family’

Published 5:55 pm Thursday, October 22, 2009

Government officials from Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County sat in stunned silence during Thursday’s press conference announcing the Franklin paper mill’s closure.

The news was especially shocking to Franklin Mayor Jim Councill and Isle of Wight County Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw, who were recently assured by IP officials that the mill was on solid footing.

“We just had a meeting last week with the management from this mill with other community leaders,” Bradshaw said after the press conference. “It was a very upbeat, positive meeting. We felt very good. (Councill) and I had even talked about it afterwards, about how upbeat it was. We both reassured each other that we were expecting the longevity of this mill to last longer than what we had thought.”

Bradshaw is a former IP employee who represents Isle of Wight’s Carrsville District, where the mill is located. He said the mill represents 25 percent of the direct tax base for Isle of Wight County.

“It was a complete shock and we’re devastated,” Bradshaw said. “This is just like a death to our family. It’s going to be something that is going to take us a long time to get over.”

Councill said he was equally surprised and disappointed by the news.

“I think we all suspected that there was a possibility of (the mill closing) way down the road,” Councill said. “We had no idea how imminent it possibly could have been.”

The mayor added that his first thought was for the families who would be affected by the mill’s closure.

“How are they going to feed their families?” Councill asked. “How are they going to pay their mortgage? It just breaks my heart to think of the challenges that we are going to be faced with right now. Our entire economy relies upon the (mill’s) employees and the ancillary businesses that are supported by them. (We) are completely dependent upon this mill.”

Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson went right to the point.

“This is a day we all hoped would never come,” he said.

What happens now?

Bradshaw said Gov. Tim Kaine would be asked for his assistance.

“We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us,” Bradshaw said. “There’s a lot we can do, but we’ve got to have a lot of help. Jim (Councill) and I have already talked about contacting the governor to get his involvement.”

Councill said Franklin, Isle of Wight and Southampton would continue to court industries to come to the area.

“We’ve got to go to work,” Councill said. “We’ve been working hard to bring in other industries, to diversify. We knew that needed to be done. All three of us have worked very hard, with little success because nobody is moving and nobody is doing anything. But we’ve really got to put in a full-court press now. We’ve got to do something so people can work here.”

He added, “It’s too nice of a place to live and not have a job.”