Project launched for economic recovery

Published 9:10 am Wednesday, November 25, 2009

FRANKLIN—Less than five weeks after International Paper Co. announced that it would close the Franklin mill by spring, a regional economic recovery program is starting to take shape to help handle the crisis.

Within hours of each other at their respective meetings Monday night, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors and the Franklin City Council each ratified an informal structure to the program, which was set up at the behest of federal and state officials to help facilitate an economic recovery in the wake of the mill’s closure.

“The only way that we’re going to survive the plant closure is if we continue to work together regionally,” Isle of Wight County Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw said Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot programs, and we’ve got a lot of things going on toward economic recovery.”

The Carrsville District Supervisor added, “We’ve made the transition of the (IP) employees our top priority. We will survive. We’ll prevail.”

The program — which doesn’t have an official name, but was coined as the “IP Economic Recovery Project” by Isle of Wight County Department of Economic Development Director Lisa Perry on Tuesday — will be led by an executive committee composed of four members: Bradshaw, Franklin Mayor Jim Councill, Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson and one of the deputy secretaries of the state Department of Commerce and Trade, either David Smith or Lyn Hammond.

Johnson told the Southampton board Monday night that he would serve on the executive committee at the request of board Chairman Dallas Jones.

The program will have four subcommittees and would focus on matters central to the region’s recovery from the mill closure — workforce development, economic development, small business and forestry industry issues.

Judy Begland, president and CEO of Opportunity Inc. of Hampton Roads, a regional workforce organization based in Norfolk, has been asked to chair the workforce development subcommittee. She was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Capron District Supervisor Moses Wyche will represent Southampton on the workforce subcommittee, while Newport District Supervisor Stan Clark will represent Isle of Wight and Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson will represent Franklin.

Perry and John Smolak, president and CEO of Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., will lead the economic development subcommittee. The subcommittee will also have Jerusalem District Supervisor Anita Felts representing Southampton, Windsor District Supervisor Thomas Wright for Isle of Wight and Ward 2 Councilman Benny Burgess for Franklin.

Perry said Tuesday that the elected officials on her committee had met previously, but no additional meetings are scheduled until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Jim Carroll, the director of Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center, will head the small businesses subcommittee. Several others, including Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor Chamber of Commerce President Connie Rhodes and Teresa Beale, executive director of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, will support the subcommittee. Dan Howe, the manager for the Downtown Franklin Association, will also be on that subcommittee.

“We need to take care of small businesses,” Bradshaw said. “They’re the next ones that are going to be hit (by the mill’s closure). We want to make sure that we are fully prepared and we are working with them to survive this transition.”

Bradshaw characterized the fourth of the four subcommittees, devoted to forestry industry issues, as being in the more preliminary stage of formation. Mike Johnson said Monday that Carl Garrisson, the state forester with the Department of Forestry, would possibly head the subcommittee, and that other local foresters would also serve on it.

“The mill was a big user of forest resources,” Johnson said. “Obviously there is an abundance of forest resources that we’ll have an opportunity to do something different with now.”