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Local workers experience secnd Fruit of the Loom closing

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By Calen McKinney

Sixteen years ago, the news devastated Campbellsville residents.

With the closing of the factory, more than 800 people lost their jobs, and residents didn't know what they were going to do.

Those in Jamestown are likely feeling the same emotions after Fruit of the Loom officials announced last Thursday they will close their plant and 601 people are set to lose their jobs.

While FOL is no longer the lifeblood for Campbellsville, several of its residents travel every day to Jamestown to work at the factory.

Many of those workers were called to comment for this story. Several declined to do so, stating, however, that the situation is bleak and has been hard. One said he expects the community will rebound, just as Campbellsville did.

Other phone calls to FOL employees went unanswered at press time.

One employee said he believes there are about 30 Campbellsville residents who work at FOL in Jamestown.

FOL officials announced last week that the company will move its Jamestown plant to Honduras to save on operational costs. The plant will close in phases, from June 8 through Dec. 31.

John Shivel, senior vice president of communications at FOL, released a statement about the closure.

The closing of the Jamestown plant, according to the statement, is "part of the company's ongoing efforts to align its global supply chain to allow the company to leverage existing investments and meet customer requirements more timely and cost effectively."

Shivel said the Jamestown plant is the last in Kentucky. The only remaining FOL operations in the state are its home office, which is in Bowling Green.

Tony Pelaski, executive vice president and chief operating officer at FOL, stated, "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."

The 601 employees - including those who live in Campbellsville - will be given a 60-day notice in accordance with the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, according to the statement.

Ron McMahan, Campbellsville/Taylor County Economic Development Authority executive director, said he doesn't know how many Taylor County residents work at the FOL plant in Jamestown. But despite that number, he said, the impact of the closure will be great.

"The negative impact on the local economy will be huge," McMahan said. "I think their unemployment rate was already one of the highest in the surrounding labor market area.

"The devastating impact could be very similar to what happened here many years ago," McMahan said.

According to media reports, Jamestown city government receives more than $200,000 a year in occupational taxes from FOL employees.

There are about 2,000 manufacturing jobs in Russell County. Those at FOL account for just less than a third of them.

The FOL company began in 1851. Today, FOL is a global business, employing more than 32,000 people worldwide. The first FOL plant in Kentucky opened in Frankfort in 1932, with about 100 employees.

Campbellsville's plant opened in 1947. At one time, about 4,000 people worked at the factory. When FOL closed in Campbellsville, the company offered jobs at the Jamestown plant to about 100 of the more than 800 people who were out of work.

State Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, who represents Russell County, said the closing of the Jamestown plant was unexpected and her prayers are with those who will lose their jobs as a result.

" ... And is terrible news not just for Russell County, but for the entire region," she said. "I've already reached out to [Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's] office and other officials to request that any available state assistance be provided to the workers and the community to recover from this devastating situation.

"I've also been in contact with Senator [Mitch] McConnell's office about federal assistance programs that may be eligible for workers when jobs are lost overseas."