IP owes area its support

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The new year brought a new and terrible set of problems for 166 employees of International Paper’s Franklin mill. Those folks and their families are the latest of IP’s workers to face unemployment as company continues with its plans to shutter the mill by the spring.

The employment situation in western Tidewater is expected to get significantly worse as the mill’s closure ends the careers of thousands of people who work there or are employed by companies that have relied on IP for their livelihood.

Most folks have had time to begin to adjust to the idea of a life without the paper mill, but for most the question of what will replace the mill continues to linger. On a personal level, those affected wonder how they will provide for their families. From a broader perspective, the community worries about what will become of the mill’s property and facilities. In the midst of an economy trying to pull itself out of recession, will another company be found to move into the soon-to-be-vacated buildings? What can be done to replace the tax revenue that will be lost by the closure?

Virginia officials acted quickly upon hearing in October of the company’s plans to shut down the mill. A rapid-response group led by Opportunity Inc. is working with IP employees to identify retraining possibilities and to help them pursue other employment opportunities.

Unfortunately, IP has been somewhat less than accommodating when it comes to making its facility available to those who will be charged with the task of marketing the property to other potential industrial users.

“We are being asked by International Paper to back off,” Isle of Wight Economic Development Director Lisa Perry said recently. “We are being asked to allow them some room to make sure they can deliver their product and so that they can make mindful decisions.”

It’s understandable that IP officials want to mind their bottom line, even as they move ahead with plans that were assumedly put in place to protect it. But they also should be cognizant of and sensitive to the widespread effects of their decision to close the Franklin mill. And they should be more cooperative in helping the surrounding communities to mitigate those effects, just as taxpayers in the area accommodated the company’s needs through the years for infrastructure, education and other assistance.