Saturday, May 23, 2009
Fruit of the Loom Inc. has set Aug. 21 as the closing date for its Vanity Fair Brands dye plant in Monroeville and its knitting plant in Jackson, the company said.
The company had announced plans a year ago to close its last manufacturing operations in southwest Alabama sometime before the end of 2009. At the time, it said it was getting out of fabric manufacturing because of increased global competition.
John Shivel, a Fruit of the Loom executive based at company headquarters in Bowling Green, Ky., said the closing date was based on "operational requirements." The company filed notice with the state earlier this week.The Monroeville plant has 141 employees, down from 180 a year ago. The Jackson plant has 69 employees, down from 90.
Vanity Fair will continue to operate a distribution center in Monroeville, which it expanded after the closing of a warehouse in Mission, Texas. Shivel said he didn't know if any workers at the dye and knitting plants would be able to find jobs there. The Monroeville distribution center has about 500 employees, according to local officials.
Fruit of the Loom is a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the Nebraska conglomerate led by billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Original owner VF Corp. sold its intimate apparel business to Fruit of the Loom in 2007 for $350 million.
Vanity Fair began manufacturing in Jackson and Monroeville in 1937. The company was long a cornerstone employer in Monroeville, helping the city grow to its current population of about 6,400.
Wiley Blankenship, executive director of Coastal Gateway Economic Development Authority, said his multi-county group, along with local leaders, was trying to help the area diversify its economy away from its traditional reliance on wood products and textile and apparel makers.
Southwest Alabama's inland counties, particularly Clarke, Conecuh and Monroe, have been hard hit by layoffs in the current recession. All three rank among the state's 13 worst counties for unemployment rates. "We've got to focus on where the future jobs are and try to figure out how we are going to employ the people who are going to be laid off," Blankenship said.
Workers laid off because of foreign competition are typically eligible for retraining money and enhanced government assistance.
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