Fruit of the Loom to close Jamestown plant, lay off all 600 workers

jpatton1@herald-leader.comApril 3, 2014 

JAMESTOWN — Clothing company Fruit of the Loom announced Thursday that it will permanently close its plant in Jamestown and lay off all 600 employees by the end of the year.

The Jamestown plant is the last Fruit of the Loom plant in a state where the company had once been a manufacturing titan second only to General Electric.

State Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, confirmed the plant manager called him Thursday afternoon with the news.

"Terrible sad day for people in Russell County," Hoover said. There was no warning of the plant closing, he said.

Layoffs will begin in June.

The company, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway but headquartered in Bowling Green, said the move is "part of the company's ongoing efforts to align its global supply chain" and will allow the company to better use its existing investments to provide products cheaper and faster.

The company said it is moving the plant's textile operations to Honduras to save money.

The company plans to close the plant in phases from June 8 through Dec. 31.

"This decision is in no way a reflection on the dedication and efforts of the employees in our Jamestown facility, but is a result of a competitive global business environment," Tony Pelaski, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a news release.

"It is very devastating," Hoover said. "Some of the worst news we could possibly hear as a community, not just the 600 jobs but the effect it has on city government, the county government, the school system and local business."

Hoover said the city of Jamestown gets more than $200,000 a year from occupational tax from plant employees.

He said Fruit of the Loom pays the city $1.6 million a year for the wastewater treatment plant, which was upgraded a few years ago at the request of Fruit of the Loom. "I don't know how they make the bond payment once Fruit of the Loom leaves," Hoover said.

State Sen. Sara Beth Gregory said in a statement: "The Fruit of the Loom closure in Jamestown is devastating news not just for Russell County but for the entire region. My prayers are with the families who are impacted by the loss of 600 jobs."

Russell County Judge-Executive Gary Robertson said he first heard of the pending layoffs on Thursday afternoon. He said that not only was Fruit of the Loom a big employer for Russell County, but for surrounding counties in the Lake Cumberland region as well.

"We have about 2,000 manufacturing jobs in Russell County, and this is going to be about a third of them," he said. "It's going to be devastating to our local economy. Everybody's going to be involved. We in the county will lose revenues. ... We've got a lot of local banks where people who work there have house payments and car payments. It's going to affect everybody in our county and in counties around us."

Lisa Gosser, president of the Russell County chamber of commerce and an employee of the Lake Cumberland development district, said that Fruit of the Loom is the county's biggest employer, so its loss is harsh on the community.

"We're doing everything we can to be proactive," she said, pointing to several automotive-related plants that are now operating in the county.

Fruit of the Loom, which has a history dating to 1851, opened its first Kentucky plant in Frankfort in 1932 with about 100 employees. Other plants followed in 1941 in Bowling Green and in 1947 in Campbellsville. The Frankfort operation was moved to a new, larger building in 1965, and the Jamestown plant opened in 1981, designed to be expanded.

The Frankfort plant, which closed in 2000, employed 280 workers.

The Jamestown plant reached peak employment of 3,247 in 1990.

In 1998, the company closed its 812-worker plant in Campbellsville, devastating the economy of the south-central Kentucky town; the company offered jobs at the Jamestown factory to 100 of the laid-off workers in Campbellsville.

At one time, Fruit of the Loom had more than 11,000 manufacturing and corporate employees at its plants in Jamestown, Frankfort, Campbellsville, Franklin, Greensburg, Princeton and Bowling Green and at its Bowling Green corporate headquarters.

Kentucky once had a major apparel-manufacturing sector before jobs withered away as companies moved production to places with cheaper labor.

Fruit of the Loom's Jamestown plant lasted longer than most in part because of a pipeline to send salt-laden, treated waste from the factory's bleaching and dyeing operations into nearby Lake Cumberland.

The pipeline caused protest and years of litigation, pitting concerns that the waste would damage the lake and the tourism industry against fears that what was then the area's largest employer would close or cut back without it.

The pipeline finally won state approval in 1993.

With the plant closing, only the corporate headquarters and a distribution center, also in Bowling Green, are left in Kentucky, according to company spokesman John Shivel. Both "shall remain," Shivel said.

The 1987 Kentucky Directory of Manufacturers listed Fruit of the Loom as the second-largest manufacturing employer in Kentucky, behind General Electric.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @JanetPattonHL.

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