Kicking us while we’re down

Published 8:18 am Wednesday, April 7, 2010

If there were any lingering doubts about International Paper Co.’s regard for the well-being of Franklin, the company’s decision to move 35 customer-service jobs to Suffolk surely closes the case.

Community leaders bent over backward to find IP suitable office space, even offering the taxpayer-owned, soon-to-be-renovated top floor of the Franklin Business Incubator. By all accounts, the employees, most all of whom live in this area, are happy working in Franklin and wanted to stay here. Still, the Memphis-based company ignored those employees and a hurting community and announced last week that the jobs will be moved to Suffolk.

For those keeping score, that’s the third IP-administered kick in Franklin’s gut, following the transfer of the paper mill’s white-collar jobs to Memphis in 1999 and the announcement last fall that the mill will be shuttered for good this spring, robbing Western Tidewater of its largest employer and economic identity.

It’s unfortunate that community leaders still are having to play nice with IP because the company controls the fate of the prime industrial property it owns along the Blackwater River.

What is abundantly clear now is that IP’s decision about the use of that property will be based entirely on what benefits IP. If that means selling the property to a company that will create 50 jobs instead of one that will create 250 jobs because the 50-job deal means a few more dollars for IP, we know that Franklin’s interest won’t matter.

We’d be remiss not to acknowledge and thank some current and former IP executives, including current Franklin Mill Manager John Rankin, who are on Franklin’s side and have consistently advocated for this community. Their voices are appreciated. It’s become clear, though, that top corporate management has little regard for Western Tidewater.

Perhaps that’s the way it should be and must be in the world of big business and global economics. Local economic developers and elected leaders, who are helpless in the matter, have little choice but to cooperate with IP and hope for the best.

But they are smart to continue working on a parallel track to rebuild our economy with or without reuse of the mill — and to not be deterred by the question of whether Franklin gets a few coincidental crumbs from the next decision out of Memphis.