IOW official: IP says to ‘back off’

Published 10:46 am Saturday, December 19, 2009

ISLE OF WIGHT—The county’s economic development director told the Board of Supervisors that an International Paper Co. official asked her to “back off” and allow the company to go about running its business.

Meanwhile, one supervisor also rebuked the director, Lisa Perry, during Thursday night’s meeting for a perceived lack of progress on formulating part of an economic recovery plan.

“We are being asked by International Paper to back off,” Perry said Thursday. “We are being asked to allow them some room to make sure they can deliver their product and so that they can make mindful decisions.”

On Friday, Perry declined to identify the IP official and added that he didn’t use the exact phrase “back off” to her.

“I was giving the gist of what he was saying,” Perry said. “The message is what’s important. He was trying to say the company has to meet its commitments and deliver products to its customers. I didn’t take it in a negative way.”

Responding shortly after the “back off” comment, Carrsville District Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw said, “The economic recovery plan is not just the paper mill site itself. It’s how are we going to replace what we’ve lost.”

Smithfield District Supervisor Al Casteen concurred, adding, “as far as economic development, we’re going to have to focus on our resources that we do have control over in the county, which is the (Shirley T. Holland) intermodal park, until IP comes forth with some inkling of what they’d like to see happen with their property. We can’t do it for them.”

According to Perry, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership suggested that Isle of Wight court suppliers of the Rolls-Royce aerospace facility currently under construction in Prince George County. The intermodal park near Windsor would be ideal because it allows easy access to the Port of Virginia and U.S. Route 460.

“The strength of our transitioning labor force in terms of skills and experience really makes this an attractive option,” Perry said.

As for the IP paper mill site, Perry informed the supervisors that she had a meeting a couple weeks ago with Andy Jones, the company’s new reuse designee.

“He was appointed specifically to manage the reuse activities on this and all of the other mill closure sites,” Perry said of Jones. “He will analyze all possible reuse opportunities from a technical standpoint and manage all information distribution from IP as appropriate to business prospects.”

She added that IP would require the business prospects to sign confidentiality agreements, and that John Rankin, who became resident manager of the Franklin Mill on Dec. 1, told her the company would keep its on-site assets “very confidential.”

“To this day, they admit that they have had a few introductory meetings with prospective users, but (Jones) did not elaborate,” Perry said. “IP wants to keep reuse development quiet to allow for a considered decision. Jones said no outreach marketing of the site is to be conducted by locals or the state. They want to minimize rumors and misinformation.”

However, Perry said the county is “continuing to entertain prospects that are interested in the IP site. All of them are renewable energy prospects, some international in scope.”

Bradshaw said he was disappointed that there wasn’t a written plan set forth by the economic development subcommittee, which Perry leads with John Smolak, president and CEO of Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc.

“I want to re-emphasize, you strike when the iron is hot,” Bradshaw said. “Right now this is a hot issue, and we need to be extremely aggressive. We need to press even harder than what we’re doing. We’ve got to take the lead because we’re suffering financially.”

Bradshaw added, “I’m not trying to criticize, I’m just trying to tell you what my expectations are. And they’re extremely high. After we get through the holidays … we need to have a better report.”