A joint statement on IP closure

Published 8:22 am Friday, March 5, 2010

Everyone is concerned about the Franklin mill closure and interested in what Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight County are doing to address the significant impacts this closure will have on employment, reuse of the mill site, tax structures and our local economy. While each of these areas deserves individual attention, let us briefly give you an overview of the regional effort being expended on your behalf.

On Oct. 22 when we were first informed of the closure, Franklin Mayor Jim Councill, Phillip Bradshaw, chairman of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors and Mike Johnson, administrator of Southampton County, met within the hour to formulate a response and plan of action to strengthen our region collectively.

Our immediate concerns included the 1,100 employees who would lose their jobs, the many people employed in the forest products and harvesting business, and the local area businesses that would be directly impacted by job losses and spending cuts.

Immediately we agreed to work closely as one unit, not three, combining our economic development effort and political energy to maximize our effects.

We formed the IP Economic Recovery Task Force to pull together all the resources and energy needed among our three jurisdictions and state resources to address remaking our economy. The task force established four standing committees to address four critical areas.

First is Work Force Development headed by Judy Begland and Opportunity Inc., the Workforce Development Group, in coordination with IP and Paul D. Camp Workforce Development Center. Their efforts include retraining employees for new job opportunities, resume writing and upgrading, interview skills, job searches and career-change opportunities. Also employees are assisted in applying for unemployment, Cobra health and training benefits. Two sites, one at IP and one at the Workforce Development Center, are staffed to provide immediate assistance to IP employees and others affected by layoffs and job losses. Representatives from labor — Carroll A. Story, Cedric “Butch” Bryant, and Preston E. Johnson — have assisted Opportunity Inc. and others to identify and to address employees’ needs.

Second is Economic Development headed by John Smolak of the Franklin Southampton Economic Development Authority, and Lisa Perry, economic development director of Isle of Wight. Their focus is assisting in mill repurposing and new economic development opportunities in the immediate area. There is substantial interest in mill repurposing in areas of green energy and green production. New job and business creation is a major focus to help replace the lost jobs and the pending losses in the tax bases that substantially affects Isle of Wight and Franklin.

Third is the Forestry Committee headed up at the state level by State Forester Carl Garrison and locally represented by Harvey Darden of the Virginia Department of Forestry. Their interest is creating a market for the large wood basket in our region while protecting the logging industry and growing the wood products industry that impacts so many landowners and suppliers.

The fourth is the Small Business Development Committee headed by Jim Carroll of the Small Business Development Group of the Hamptons Roads Chamber of Commerce working with Teresa Beale of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber and Connie Rhodes of the Isle of Wight Chamber to support local area businesses. The committee and staff also assist displaced workers in seeking new entrepreneurial opportunities. The emphasis on local business sustainability is critical to our long-term growth as we weather this temporary economic impact on our area.

Members of the community who bring expertise to this effort have joined our task force. They include Frank Rabil, former IP employee and facilitator, Chuck Lilley of Franklin Southampton Futures (a former Union Camp employee), Lisa Peterson, administrative assistant with Opportunity Inc. and Charlie Greiner, former IP executive. Our collective efforts will be used to influence the remaking of our region into a new exciting and different place to work, live and raise your families.

Gov. Tim Kaine, Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Randy Forbes, newly elected Gov. Bob McDonnell, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheng, state senators and delegates have all visited IP and Franklin to listen, learn and offer resources to assist our region in mill repurposing, new employment opportunities and new economic development.

We are privileged to lead this effort as a collective region of the City of Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County as we seek every opportunity to remake and redesign who we can become in this challenging environment.

On behalf of the 1,100 employees and every citizen of our region we express our gratitude to International Paper for being so community and socially conscious in exploring any opportunity to repurpose this mill facility for the benefit of the 1,100 employees who will lose their jobs, three localities’ economic future and for the area businesses who have supported this industry and its employees for more than 100 years. Partnering with International Paper, local and state governments, and new occupants of the mill site and area facilities will make our future bright.

Our task force meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. at Franklin City Hall. It is our pleasure to serve you.