Down, but far from dead

Published 8:42 am Saturday, October 31, 2009

The impact of the upcoming closure of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill must be considered from at least two perspectives.

For 1,100 mill employees and their families — and untold others whose jobs will be lost as the mill’s shutdown sends ripples through the region’s economy — one must have walked in their shoes to understand the impact of IP’s kick-in-the-gut announcement last week. By the grace of God, I haven’t.

I have, however, talked at length with a half-dozen or so displaced employees and spouses over the past week, and their emotions range from disbelief and anger to inconsolable sadness and fear of what the future holds.

Each family’s loss is uniquely personal and defies objective analysis. The impact cannot be measured strictly in dollars and cents. The emotional toll is as taxing as the financial toll.

I hurt for each, and our newspaper is committed to telling their stories in the months ahead.

The second important perspective is that of a community, Western Tidewater, that worries, legitimately, about its own future as it stares in disbelief at the loss of its anchor employer and industrial icon.

That perspective, too, has an emotional component, evidenced by the collective funk that has settled over the citizenry since the closure announcement.

Amid that funk, however, the future of Franklin and Western Tidewater demands an objective, less emotional assessment. Our newspaper is equally committed to providing that in-depth analysis, to giving our readers perspective on the scope of the economic damage and the long recovery that awaits our community.

An example is staff writer Charlie Passut’s excellent analysis (“Unemployment by the numbers”) and accompanying graphic in Friday’s edition that put in context the job losses — both direct and indirect — as a percentage of total employment in each area locality and the region as a whole.

If you missed it, I encourage you to retrieve Friday’s edition from the recycling bin and read the story. The bottom line: Even if economists’ projections of up to three indirect job losses for every lost mill job prove accurate, the overwhelming majority of Western Tidewater citizens will remain gainfully employed and contributing to a viable regional economy.

That’s not sugarcoating. It’s statistical fact.

This community’s most formidable enemy in the months ahead will be the naysayers — mostly outsiders, including the regional media, for whom the supposed demise of this Western Tidewater “mill town” will become an irresistible cliché.

Community leaders and citizens alike must resist these doomsday prophets, even as we face up to the significant challenges that await, set about rebuilding an economy that will be deeply damaged and forge a new identity for the place we love and call home.