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Burlington to close, 850 to lose jobs

By Staff
WORKING HARD Mary Parker keeps an eye on the thread as it passes through her machine in this 1998 photo at the Burlington Industries plant in Stonewall. The company has announced it will close or sell the plant by March 31. Photo by Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
By Steve Swogetinsky/regional editor
Jan. 10, 2002
STONEWALL Everything changed today in this small mill town when rumors became reality.
Burlington Industries announced it plans to sell or shut down its plant here on March 31, a move that will cost 850 people their jobs.
The company is closing its denim division plants in the United States, blaming foreign competition and a weak economy.
Other plants to be closed or sold by March 31 are in Mount Holly, N.C.; Halifax, Va.; Clarksville, Va.; and Aguascalients, Mexico. The company also will reduce production at its Rayford, N.C., plant.
The Stonewall plant has been in operation since the 1860s and is by far the largest employer in Clarke County. Burlington, headquartered in North Carolina, has owned and operated the plant since 1962.
Financial problems grow
While the Stonewall plant was reported operating at a profit, Burlington Industries filed for bankruptcy in November 2001. When the plant was down for two weeks that month, Clarke County's unemployment rate soared to 15 percent.
Rumors about the plant's closure persisted. However, such rumors have been around for years and usually not taken too seriously by longtime employees.
Company made improvements
Burlington Industries spent most of the 1990s modernizing and expanding its Stonewall plant at a cost of $60 million.
The Stonewall plant is actually divided into two locations. The "yarn plant," in the original building in the center of town, makes yarn out of cotton. The "new plant," which turns cotton into denim, was built and opened in the late 1970s.
Local officials also heard rumors Burlington would close the plant. But they said they were still "shocked" by the announcement.
Clarke County Supervisor Tony Fleming of District 5 agreed: "It's bad and I'm afraid it's going to get worse. It's NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). We have to ask our people in Washington what was built-in to take care of the people who lose there jobs because of NAFTA. What are they going to do now?"