Looking back: Franklin-Southampton industrial growth recognized

Published 12:00 pm Friday, February 24, 2017

by Clyde Parker

February 24, 1967

Southampton County and Franklin, long maintaining a balance between an agricultural and industrial economy, are finding themselves on the threshold of additional rapid industrial development.

Within the past year, three factors have combined to induce manufacturers to either come here or to expand existing plants. One of the factors is the establishment of the Franklin Industrial Park, on Route 671 just past St. Regis Paper Co. Establishment of an industrial park is always an indication to industry that a community is interested in seeking new payrolls for its people. 

Another factor is the activation of Franklin Industrial Foundation, headed by Roger W. Drake, in partnership with the Virginia Industrial Development Corp., to build plants for lease to industry and to assist, generally, in the promotion of industrial growth in Franklin and Southampton. A result of this effort was the recent establishment in Franklin of Sachs Nut Co. in the aforementioned Franklin Industrial Park, now employing 75 people. 

The third factor is an act, passed by the last General Assembly, which permits a community to borrow money to help establish manufacturing plants through the issuance of industrial revenue bonds.

Another recent development is the announcement that Coronet Casuals Inc. of Portsmouth would start-up a plant in Franklin to make shirts. It is to be known as the Franklin Shirt Co. Under present arrangements, Coronet Casuals will lease a warehouse (the former Knight Buggy Co. building) located in the 200 block of East Second Avenue for a period of 14 months, starting around the first of April. In the meantime, the Company will be searching for a more permanent location for its Franklin operation.   

Over in Boykins, Boykins Narrow Fabrics Corp., producing webbing and seat belt material, has increased employment from 68 last year to 117 this year. And, in Boykins, Aster Nut Co. has increased employment from 35 to 65.

In Franklin, Franklin Equipment Co., manufacturers of logging tractors, is enjoying remarkable success. Started just five years ago in a converted hangar at Franklin Municipal Airport, the company is now operating out of a building on East Second

Avenue in Franklin, employing 125 people. 

Just this week, Company President Roger Drake announced that he would build a new 120,000 square-foot plant in Isle of Wight County, on 34 acres, next to Camptown, just down the road from Union Camp Corp. While making the announcement, Drake was quick to comment further, “The initial estimated cost is $500,000, however, it is expected that business will be such that an expansion up to 250,000 square feet is likely in the not too distant future. And, we estimate that our employment level will reach close to 250.”

Franklin Equipment Co. manufactures logging tractors that are mounted on oversized rubber tires rather than on traditional tracks. That innovation, coupled with the fact that the tractors have articulated center steering sections, has placed “Franklin” logging tractors at a good advantage over its competitors’ products. The company competes, in the logging tractor market, with John Deere, Caterpillar, and International Harvester. 

Tidewater Equipment Co., an authorized dealer organization based in Brunswick, Georgia, is distributing “Franklin” tractors, through multiple outlets, throughout the southeastern United States.  Market expansion is taking the product into the Kentucky-Tennessee region and into New England and the Pacific Northwest.   

Further expansion is likely. Negotiations are now underway with a Swedish group for a licensing arrangement or a sales agreement in order to gain access to export markets.

Union Camp Corp., with a $37 million expansion, scheduled for completion in April, obviously is the industrial forerunner in this area.  The major part of the expansion is the construction of “Number Five” paper machine which, with its 150 tons of output per day, will push the total Franklin Mill production to well over 1,000 tons per day. Employment will increase by 150 workers, making the total number of employees at Franklin over 1,950. The Franklin Mill complex produces a wide range of paper and paperboard for use in hundreds of end-use products — such as fine printing papers, food containers, envelopes, heavy-duty folding cartons, and so on. 

Over the past two years, over 800 people have been employed in construction jobs for the expansion at the Franklin Mill. Resulting from the Mill expansion, the overall economy of the Franklin-Southampton area has realized huge growth. Significant infusions of money, running into multiple millions, have accrued to the benefit of other area industries and retail businesses.     

St. Regis Paper Co.’s paper bag manufacturing plant in Franklin produces multiwall bags to serve the feed, cement, lime, fertilizer, chemical and other industries of the South-Atlantic region. The Franklin plant covers 152,000 square feet on a 21-acre site on Route 671. Last year, this time, employment was at 190. Now it is 214.     

Hercules Powder Co., located on Route 671 in Southampton County, just added 10 employees, bringing its employment level to 85. The company produces various chemicals much of which comes from by-products and residuals resulting from paper manufacturing at Union Camp.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net