On the path to building a new economy

Published 9:44 am Saturday, April 10, 2010

The people of Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight have braved many challenges over the years: hurricanes, flooding, economic good times and bad. For the past 122 years International Paper, Union Camp and Camp Manufacturing have been a crucial part of the community, helping to weather these storms, providing solid careers. The mill closing rivals all these challenges and has shaken Western Hampton Roads to its core.

Camp Manufacturing began in our area because of an abundance of natural and human resources: good wood, availability of water, and an industrious workforce second to none. The mill is not closing because these resources have vanished. It is not closing because it was unproductive or as a result of something the localities did or did not do. The mill closing is not the fault of anyone in Franklin, Southampton or Isle of Wight. On the contrary, the workers and suppliers should be proud of what they have accomplished over the years. The fact is the mill is a victim of economic circumstances beyond our control.

Though the mill is closing, the tremendous assets that made our area great remain. Because of this, we are optimistic for the future of our communities. Working together, our communities can forge a new economy, a new prosperity. We need not, nor should we, settle for a diminished future.

Since the mill-closing announcement, leaders from our communities have worked with regional, state and federal organizations to secure resources for those impacted by the closure. Those organizations have responded in a way not seen even after the 1999 flood. Govs. Tim Kaine and Bob McDonnell could not have been more supportive. U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner as well as U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes have pledged the full weight of federal resources behind our recovery.

The three of us form an Economic Recovery Executive Committee charged with coordinating recovery and planning for the future of our area. In turn, the committee formed working groups for economic development; workforce development; small business; and forestry.

Communication with the public is essential to our success. This is the first in a series of community updates. On Tuesday, April 6, the Executive Committee hosted a Community Forum attended by about 80 citizens.


Our area communities are the heart of what some call Virginia’s “Wood Basket.” This renewable resource was a cornerstone of mill production and fueled many other local businesses. The Virginia Department of Forestry is working with wood suppliers to identify and open doors to new markets for their products.

Economic development

The Isle of Wight and Franklin/Southampton economic development departments are working on several fronts to bring industry and jobs to the area.

Construction of the Rolls-Royce plant in Prince George County is to a point where supplier companies are looking to relocate. Our area has available sites, with rail, highway and port access that are being marketed to these companies. In partnership with the Commonwealth and the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, both economic development departments will launch a marketing campaign to attract distribution and logistics companies.

Lastly, International Paper has received unsolicited proposals for reuse of the current mill site. While details of these proposals are confidential, we understand they involve industries that will need our forest product and skilled worker resources.

Workforce development

More than 400 International Paper employees have visited the mill site Transition Center and Franklin One-Stop Workforce Center. The centers provide job-search assistance as well as access to federal and state benefits. Training funds are available for workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own. In addition, International Paper employees are eligible for expanded benefits through the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program. Call 569-6082 for more information.

In January, more than 1,200 attended the Opportunity Inc Job Fair at the Paul D Camp Community College Workforce Center. There were 28 direct hires at the fair and many more as a result of initial contacts made there.

Small business

The Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center received a grant from Verizon to make available free online entrepreneurship resources (www.hrsbdc.org). Additional small business resources are available at www.ipclosure.com.