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Victor Forstmann employees regroup after announcement of Dublin plant closin | Local headline
by Stephanie Mille
Mar 02, 2007 | 2521 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There’ll be no late-inning heroics this time around to save Forstmann after a swing by Major League Baseball from wool ball caps to polyester, signaling the demise of the longtime East Dublin landmark.

“This is the last of the best,” said Alvin Moorman, human resources manager of Victor Forstmann Inc., of the remaining 125 employees who will be losing their jobs. The announcement of the intended closing came Thursday afternoon.

“What we have left are the most experienced, best employees we have,” he said as he walked through the plant Friday morning. Amid the busy hum of the weaving machines, isles of unused equipment sat idle and a building that was once filled with up to 1,600 employees felt subdued except for the loyal remaining workers who still quietly went about their jobs in spite of the coming closing.

Moorman, who has been with the company for 34 years himself, said the news came unexpectedly, but not as a total shock, to those employees who have stayed with the company despite the many cuts it has had to make since Victor Forstmann Inc., purchased the old J.P. Stevens Company in 1999.

Plans are to complete current orders through April 30 and then to ship out those orders before completely closing the plant permanently, according to Yves Coderre, chief operating officer, Apparel and Specialty Fabrics.

Coderre said he came to Laurens County in December and has been working at the plant to try to do what he could to turn the business around, but with the announcement that one of its top accounts, Major League Baseball, would be switching from wool fabric in its official caps to 100 percent usage of polyester, there was nothing else he could do.

“That was the nail in the coffin,” he said, using the old colloquialism that signals the end.

Coderre met with members of the press and several key company employees of the East Dublin facility Friday morning to answer questions about plans for the building and its employees.

“After I arrived the business started deteriorating, especially with our baseball cap business ... that business is still gonna continue but the volume is gonna reduce strongly. So we came to a point where it became impossible to make this operation profitable,” he said. “I know that the owner tried very hard to make it successful — and the employees made a great effort at making this operation profitable,” he said.

As in the case of most every textile company that has closed in the U.S. in recent years, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) claimed this facility of Victor Forstmann Inc. also.

“With free trade and all the apparel business moving to Asia and China the volume has been going down gradually ... so we did our best, the employees did their best, but it comes to a point where it’s not working and you’ve gotta move on,” Coderra said. “And that’s what’s happening.”

He said the company has finished goods and raw material that will be converted and orders will continue being shipped until the process is finished. After that, the operation will be ceased.

The building will be put up for sale.

“We have a unique place. We have 260 acres of land on the river. We’ve got a water treatment system ... we’re using only a fraction of it. That it could be attractive to another company to invest in this place here because the water treatment is a big attraction. We’re gonna take our time to find the right buyer and we believe we can attract a new company to this place and hopefully give back work to our employees.”

He said while Forstmann is open to sell to any company, the most value will likely be seen in a company that needs water treatment — such as a pulp and paper company. Discussion has already begun with a broker for the sale of the facility.

“We believe Dublin, Georgia is a very attractive location. It’s near a major highway. It’s near a port in Savannah. So there’s a lot of advantage to establish your business in this region,” said Coderre.

He also said the current tenant, the Georgia Department of Child Support Recovery office that operates out of the plant, will remain there and the company will continue to maintain that facility. The office has about 50 employees. Coderre said that is another plus for anyone interested in the building — to get a facility already generating income.

The intentions of the company are to do everything it possibly can to help its remaining employees find other jobs.

“We will be working with the department of labor in assisting our employees in finding other employment ... They will be bringing a task force in to work with our employees in the coming weeks,” said Moorman, who added the employees will be offered opportunity to get training for other jobs and to get their General Education Diploma (GED), if they should need it.

He said while walking through the plant some of the employees may be intimidated at the thought of starting over in their careers, but he hopes to convince them this is the chance of a lifetime to get the career education they want while being paid to do so. Most of the employees who remain at the company now have at least 20 years of service there, as those with the least amount of seniority were the first to be let go when the layoffs took place.

Geraldine Johnson of Cadwell, a final inspector who came to work at Victor Forstmann in 1984 as a single mother with five children, spoke on her thoughts after hearing the news. She said her job at Forstmann had put all five of her children through school and some of them through college.

“I think we were kinda shocked, but what can we say? This company has been a blessing to all of us,” said Johnson, who offered thanks to Forstmann for even coming in and purchasing the facility in 1999 when it was about to close.

Plant Manager Mike Kelly said he believes the employees knew the closing was coming; they just didn’t know when.

“Over the last few months a lot of the employees who have been here a long time have seen the signs before of a declining business. While it was a shock to finally get the verdict that it was closing, it was anticipated by most that something had to happen. The response that I’m getting by most of the employees is that they hate it’s happened, they really enjoyed working here, but kind of an overall anticipation that something had to happen,” said Kelly. Linda Garner, who has worked at the company for a total of 37 years said she believes the employees for the most part are optimistic about the closing.

“We’re philosophical about it,” she said. “We realized it couldn’t keep going the way it was going. Everybody was giving the best effort. People here work together well and we don’t say, ‘that’s not my job.’ We are skilled so we can probably do more than just one thing. We’re flexible. We really want to work. So if the company’s failing, it’s not for lack of employees trying or management leading and guiding us. I think the market is driving everything. That’s just my opinion.”

Coderre said he believes any company will have made a good choice if it hires a Forstmann employee.

“I think it’s gonna be a blessing for any company to hire our employees here,” said Coderre.

Moorman said he has already starting receiving phone calls from those in the community offering their condolences and asking about various employees. He believes the employees there will have many job offers to choose from because of their work ethic and willingness to work.

“These are some of the best employees Laurens County has to offer..... These are some of the best employees anybody can have whether they’re educated or not educated. They’re good skilled employees.”

On March 5, 1947, a breath of fresh air came to the county when ground was broken for the construction of the Dublin Woolen Mills, a division of the thriving J.P. Stevens Co. News of the incoming industry woke up the sleepy little town of Dublin and helped bring it to where it is today. At the turn of the century, Dublin and its economy depended heavily on the cotton industry and railroads. It was small but prosperous until a nearly 20-year battle with an infestation of boll weevils severely damaged its cotton production.

Most of the existing industries left town leaving choking farmers behind to defend the economy. Then the “Woolen Mill” opened allowing many farmers who had been beaten in the fields an opportunity to leave their fields behind and turn to technology to provide for their families. As premier employer of the county, Dublin Woolen Mills had a profound effect upon the community.

When the company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1997 there were two plants in East Dublin.

The Dublin plant and Nathaniel plant made up Forstmann & Co. Inc. and employed more than 1,300 people, many of whom had been with the company for decades. The woolen operation had two additional mills in Milledgeville and Louisville and a New York sales and styling office that brought the 1997 employment to approximately 2,550 and annual sales of about $200 million.

Through the years employees have produced not only the fabric for the caps worn by those heroes of America’s Favorite Pastime — baseball — but also the dress uniforms of the U.S. Military, the colorful fabric of pool and billiard tables, school uniforms and the fabric of the green jacket for the Masters Tournament winners.

While hopes are that the facility will be sold and a new beginning will come forth from the end of the “Woolen Mill,” without a doubt for more than 50 years there is only one thing that can be said about the companies that have operated the plant and the employees who have worked there. Perhaps Johnson said it best for all of Laurens County.

“It’s been a blessing to us.”

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