Clarke County may be coming around with the help of USA Fabrics, but they had to hit rock bottom to do so.
The bad luck for Clarke County started when A&B Components shut its doors in Shubuta in November 2000. In March of this year, Burlington Industries Inc. put approximately 800 people out of a job when it closed its two textile plants in Stonewall. In Sept. 2001 Nazareth/Century Mills in Quitman shut its plant down, hoping to reopen at some point in the near future. Less than two weeks ago, however, the company was forced to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Jim Riley, CFO of Nazareth/Century Mills, grew up in Quitman and has worked at the company for more than 34 years.
“It’s sad to see this happen but it’s time to move on,” Riley said of the company’s filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Nazareth/Century Mills at one time had seven facilities worldwide and between 1,200 and 1,300 employees. Today, the company has eight employees in Quitman and five in the sales office in New York.
“We couldn’t compete with the Far East pricing,” Riley said. “Our customers wanted the service that we could provide but they weren’t willing to pay for that service. We were competing with people who were making 20 to 30 cents per hour.”
Before Nazareth/Century Mills drew in its last breath, it opened an operation in Honduras. Company officials had hoped to convert from manufacturing to strictly sourcing. On Feb. 1, however, the company closed its Honduras operation.
“I think we could have made it if we’d had the financial capital to make that conversion, but we got in too deep to make it work,” Riley said. “We improved our margins dramatically but it took so much working capital we just couldn’t do it.”
Paul Mosley, District IV supervisor and president of the Clarke County Board of Supervisors, blames much of the trouble in Clarke County on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Over the past two years we’ve had about 2,000 job losses,” Mosley said. “It’s due to NAFTA that they’re leaving us. We’re probably one of the hardest hit (counties in Mississippi).”
Harry Martin, president emeritus of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo and economic developer and real estate broker with Janet and Harry Martin Select Properties PLLC, grew up in Clarke County. Despite the hard times the county has experienced, Martin is confident that things are turning around.
He is especially pleased about USA Fabrics, which recently announced they would be entering the county and taking over a portion of the Nazareth/Century Mills plant. USA Fabrics is a Florence, Ala.-headquartered company, and has plans to start the Quitman plant with 25 to 30 employees. In two years it could have as many as 200 to 400 employees in Quitman.
Martin added that county officials are working on another company that could announce its arrival into the Sunbeam Oster building in Shubuta sometime in the next 30 days.
“The supervisors, the mayor — they’re really working together as a team,” Martin said. “I’m really excited about it.”
Kay Rolison, president of the Clarke County Chamber of Commerce, said the potential USA Fabrics has in Quitman gives Clarke County residents something to look forward to.
“It was a very serious time, the first quarter of this year,” Rolison said. “USA Fabrics choosing to locate here really helps us out. I know everyone’s working really hard to solicit businesses in the county, and we have a real positive attitude that something’s going to work out. Anytime anyone’s interested, it’s always positive for us.”
Mosley said he was thankful for the amount of support Clarke County’s approximately 18,000 residents have gotten from so many different places, including the Governor’s Office, U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
“They’re doing everything they can to throw money at Clarke County,” Mosley said.
Joe Buckner, job fair director for the Governor’s Office, said an April 23 job fair held in the National Guard Armory in Quitman brought hope to many of the area’s residents. Thirty-two companies participated and more than 700 applicants attended.
More than 150 job offers were made throughout the course of the day, and the companies projected they would hire at least 300 more applicants from the fair during the coming year.
“The bottom line is there are jobs out there,” Buckner said. “I think that provides a lot of hope for the people in the community.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com or (601) 364-1042.