Local businesses react to news; leaders remain upbeat

Published 8:37 am Friday, October 23, 2009

FRANKLIN—Businesses in Franklin have rolled with the punches when it came to their papermaking partner.

They, along with the employees of International Paper, have weathered layoffs and furloughs and buyouts.

Some have trudged through the thin years with their coffers considerably lighter, while others were forced to shut their doors forever.

Resiliency became a badge of honor.

“It’s going to have a huge effect,” Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Teresa Beale said of Thursday’s announcement that IP’s Franklin Mill is closing.

As shock and sadness set in, so did determination.

“We’ll just have to get to work and decide how we move forward — and we will,” Beale said.

She said it was too early to assess the potential damage to the business community as well as the help that the area will need to recover.

“I know there’s going to be assistance from state agencies and economic development agencies,” Beale said. “We’ll try to put together a plan and move forward the best way we can.”

Jinesh Patel, owner of the Park & Shop convenience store near the mill, said most of his business comes from IP workers.

He estimated that 300 to 500 IP employees shop there on any given day.

“They come in the morning for breakfast,” he said. “I’m worried they might stop spending money here. Business will go down. The whole city will go down.”

While he, too, was disappointed to hear the news of the mill closing, John Smolak, president of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development, tried to remain upbeat.

“It’s a business decision, and that’s what we have to live with. We certainly have compassion and concern for all the employees and related business suppliers that will be affected,” he said. “The Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Board and staff over the last four years have been aggressively trying to market our community and diversify our community’s economic base.

“We are confident that the region and the area and community will remain a good place to do business.

In time — and I emphasize in time — we will survive this devastating economic news.”

Smolak said his office is already starting to work on a recovery plan.

“You can be assured that locally we will work with federal, state and regional resources and with the Hampton Roads Alliance to do what we can to mobilize a strategic initiative and plan to help deal with this.”

Mike Coburn, a contractor who does a lot of work at IP, said he expected more job cuts but not for the entire mill to close so suddenly.

“I knew it was coming,” he said. “But I didn’t see it coming like this.”

“It’s like somebody just kicked you in the teeth,” he said. “Franklin’s been hit kind of hard.”

Coburn said that his business has already been affected by cutbacks at the mill, and he’s concerned about the future for the employees and the community at-large because there will be a ripple effect.

“It’s going to be hard to recover,” he said. “From what I hear, this is a done deal.”

Blake Ford owner Blake Blythe said that the mill’s closure is going to affect all businesses in the city, and he blames the corporate leadership at IP.

“It comes down to three things: poor leadership, poor management and poor politics,” he said. “How does a 100-year-old company go broke? It’s greed.”

While he is concerned about the effect on his car dealership, Blythe said that he will work hard to maintain his business despite the difficult times ahead.

“It’s not a good thing, but I’m not going to crawl into a hole and die,” he said. “I’ll think outside the box, do things that other people won’t do to survive.”

“My heart and my soul are invested in this,” he said.