Enough of the IP love

Published 9:41 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three days after International Paper Co. announced in October its plans to close Franklin’s paper mill, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who knows a thing or two about the ways of Big Business, looked local elected leaders in the eye at Franklin City Hall and recommended a low-risk, low-odds but potentially high-reward strategy:

Shame ’em.

Write a letter to every member of the company’s board of directors. Demand a face-to-face meeting with the CEO. Write an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. Warner even gave them a deadline to complete the letter. Warner’s words were a little more diplomatic, but his advice was crystal clear: Hit them where it hurts — their stock price.

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Community leaders nodded their heads in agreement, left the meeting and promptly … kissed up to IP.

What has followed has been a six-month public love fest with the Memphis company that elected and appointed leaders apparently thought would result in (a) keeping 35 customer-service jobs in Franklin and (b) the mill site being repurposed for the benefit of the greater community.

Hindsight is 20-20, but they should have listened to Warner.

It’s now official that the customer-service jobs are going to Suffolk, and there’s not a shred of evidence beyond lip service that IP’s decisions on what to do with the mill site will be made with regard for the economic well-being of Franklin or the surrounding area. The enduring legacy of International Paper in this community is that IP looks out for IP. If Franklin, or Isle of Wight — or even Suffolk — happens to benefit, it will be coincidental to the transaction’s padding of IP’s bottom line.

This community’s leadership should be cordial and professional with IP and answer its questions. It should roll out the red carpet to whatever company or companies eventually buy or lease the property. But, please, stop the public niceties and platitudes, which insult the feelings and intelligence of a community that has been irrevocably wronged by this corporate giant.

If reuse of the mill site results in 25 jobs, 50 or 200, consider it a bonus. It should not be treated as the centerpiece of an economic recovery and the forging of a new community identity. Economic developers’ and elected leadership’s focus must be on building from the ground up a diverse, balanced economy that is not compromised by the whims of a single employer.

—The Tidewater News