A Good Mill Gone




A Good Mill Gone

Franklin and friends face an uncertain future after International Paper announced permanent shut down.

Bookmark and Share By Phyllis Speidell - Photos By John H. Sheally II

 

About an hour southwest of Norfolk on Oct. 22,
a cloudy Thursday, the normally sleepy small town of Franklin awoke to a nightmare. International Paper, a major employer in Western Hampton Roads, unleashed the monster of massive unemployment that has threatened the area since the company took over the Union Camp paper mill in May 1999.

The mill is closing permanently by the end of March, eliminating its 1,100 jobs and affecting an estimated 2,200 more jobs among mill suppliers and other businesses in the area.

IP spokesman Desmond Stills blamed the recession for the closing—“the performance of the Franklin employees has been exemplary for many years, but the decision to close the operations was based on the need to balance our production with the needs of our customers.”

The 740,000 tons of paper the mill produces annually is used for greeting cards, copy paper and similar products.

Shock turned to desperate questions in the community. Where can so many people find new jobs?

“And where will people find jobs paying the $24 an hour average wage at IP?” asks James P. Councill, III, mayor of Franklin.

Another town might whimper and wither, but those who know and love Franklin believe that the town and surrounding area will survive the closing and create a better life from it.

“Nobody fell in love with Franklin because of the mill; it was the people, our lifestyle, our heritage—the town itself,” Councill tells more than 700 residents and mill workers gathered at a town meeting just days after IP’s announcement. The audience applauds, cheering as he urges them to focus on what they can make happen, rather than what has happened to them.

 

For the rest of this article see the January issue of Hampton Roads Magazine

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