Closing cuts deep into community
By By BRIAN BLACKLEY
Vanity Fair's announcement that its Atmore facility will close on March 28, 2002, leaving 509 employees jobless has community economics officials gravely concerned, but they are dedicated to moving forward to help fill the vast void left by the loss.
Atmore Mayor Howard Shell says the city has "pledged to work with Vanity Fair officials and employees to assist in this transition."
The city has contacted state and federal officials to notify them of the situation, and Shell remains hopeful that support from state and federal agencies will help Atmore during the coming days and weeks.
But Shell and Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce Director Emilie Mims say the announcement will require the help, patience, dedication and efforts of the entire community in order to get the void left by the closing filled.
The Atmore City Council stands behind the mayor and his comments regarding the matter. Councilman John Watkins believes the only way through the troubling days ahead is through working together.
Vanity Fair's Atmore facility is a sewing operation the last sewing facility that the company operates domestically.
Mims said Vanity Fair officials remain dedicated to helping the associates who work in the facility as much as possible.
Beyond the loss of Vanity Fair's Atmore sewing facility, community leaders are grieving the loss of an organization they say has been generous to the various organizations in the area.
Watkins agrees and notes that Vanity Fair's departure will stretch beyond the loss of jobs.
The depth of Vanity Fair's local contributions, involvement and help is hard to measure, but Mims notes that there are many community programs that draw assistance from Vanity Fair that will suffer from the loss.
The announcement came Wednesday morning in a teleconference call between city and Vanity Fair officials.
Vanity Fair's official announcement states that the plant's closing is designed to "improve profitability and spur future growth" and that this is related to broad measures that "will fundamentally change the company's cost structure, brand portfolio and manufacturing mix."
Wednesday, Nov. 14, marked the first day of what VF officials are calling a "phase-out period" that will extend to the final closing date on March 28.
The loss of jobs locally is part of big-picture policies on a federal level that have opened up trade barriers between many countries. With U.S. labor laws requiring minimum wages and other benefits for employees, many U.S. manufacturing plants have found it cheaper to migrate to other countries where they have access to a large and inexpensive labor force. Most garment facility closings have come in efforts to retain competitive costs that can only be achieved through the migration of jobs out of the country.
Throughout the state and nation, the situation has brought shutdowns of plants.
Alabama has been hit hard. Vanity Fair has closed operations in Demopolis, Jackson and Robertsdale and has also closed an operation in nearby Milton, Fla.
And the problem is not unique to Vanity Fair.
The Russell Athletic Corporation, known for its apparel lines, has shut down operations throughout the state including in Alexander City and Brundidge, Ala., as officials have found it more economical to send the jobs and plants to other countries.
But beyond the politics of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the removal of many barriers to free trade, some people fear that an economic slow-down could be responsible for hastening the evacuation of jobs.