Workforce Center braces for influx

Published 10:18 am Saturday, October 24, 2009

FRANKLIN—It was quiet at the Virginia Employment Commission’s office at Paul D. Camp Community College’s Workforce Development Center Friday morning, but it likely won’t be for long.

As the region recovers from the initial shock of International Paper Co.’s decision to close the Franklin paper mill, the focus is turning to the future, and the Workforce Development Center will play a vital role in getting affected employees back to work.

“That whole operation will become increasingly important,” said Dr. Doug Boyce, the president of PDCCC. He said that the college is looking at devoting additional space at the center to job services.

With several high profile layoffs — from Franklin Equipment to ATC Panels and even IP — the workforce center has seen increased traffic recently.

“In the past year, that operation has serviced more people than in the past,” said Dr. Patsy Joyner, the vice president for institutional advancement at PDCCC. She said the center went from seeing four or five people a day to as many as 40, and that’s before the announcement of IP’s closure.

“It’s going to get huge with the influx from IP,” Boyce said.

Randy Betz, the vice president for workforce development at PDCCC, said the workforce development center will “work hand-in-hand” with the VEC, the One-Stop Workforce Center (Opp Inc.) and the governor’s economic strike force team to bring resources to those affected.

Angela Lawhorne, a workforce services representative at the VEC, said they “are definitely preparing” for the influx from IP.

“The VEC is taking the proper precautions to prepare for additional staff and additional resources,” she said.

The VEC is going to make special arrangements to assist the workers for job search and training. The office also provides computers, a copy machine and a fax machine.

“They can use any of those resources,” she said.

Even those who may not be looking for employment can use services at the VEC office. It’s useful for those looking to go to college or learn a new trade.

“They can come in here and see what’s in demand,” she said.

Lawhorne was hesitant to say that IP was the region’s largest employer overall — typically governments, schools and hospitals are a region’s largest employers — but IP’s closure will be a big blow.

“As far as manufacturing goes, I believe that’s the largest in the area,” she said.

Lawhorne said it’s important that people realize the VEC operates an office in Franklin, and IP workers can come in, create résumés and start their job search now, before the mill shuts down.

“I’m a local,” said Lawhorne, who personally knows several affected employees. “I know how much that company means to this area.”

As the area prepares to absorb the loss of 1,100 jobs in the coming months, Lawhorne said the VEC will work hard to get everyone back to work.

“We’re going to do everything in our power,” she said.