Officials analyze job loss at Fruit of the Loom in Vidalia

Published 12:11am Friday, January 10, 2014

Editor’s note: The original version of this article contained an error. The version below has been corrected. We regret the error and are happy to set the record straight.

VIDALIA — Vidalia officials are weighing the impact of 150 jobs leaving Concordia Parish in March from the Fruit of the Loom’s Vidalia Apparel plant.

The announcement came Tuesday from Martin Mills Inc., a subsidiary of Union Underwear Company Inc., in a release stating it will permanently reduce the workforce at its Vidalia distribution center, which opened in 1995.

One of the largest private employers in the Miss-Lou announced 150 of its 260 employees would be laid off starting in March.

The release stated the employees had been given notice of the downsizing in accordance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

Employees at the plant confirmed Thursday they had been informed of the downsizing, but had not been told specifically which workers would be fired and which ones would remain working.

Vidalia Apparel is housed in a 1-million-square-foot building in the Vidalia Industrial Park and distributes Fruit of the Loom’s casual wear and intimate apparel product lines.

Alderman Jon Betts said the announcement came as a shock and that the impact of the company’s decision can’t yet be felt.

“You never want to hear about people losing their jobs,” Betts said. “I don’t know how many people inside Concordia Parish, the Town of Vidalia or even Natchez that are part of the ratio of employees.

“I really don’t know what that impact will be as far as the town is concerned.”

Betts said the area will suffer if those employees relocate for a new job.

“It is not good when people have to go somewhere else to look for a job,” Betts said. “You never want to hear that for the region.”

The decision, however, will not impact future economic development prospects.

“I suppose this was an economic decision made by a company,” Betts said. “I don’t see it as being a detriment (to recruitment).

“I see it as an economic decision made by one company.”

Alderman Triand “Tron” McCoy said he did not foresee the announcement.

“It was a total shock to me,” McCoy said. “I can’t project the future, but the immediate impact of losing 150 jobs could be catastrophic.

“I can’t imagine the parish’s third or fourth largest employer laying off half its workforce in a month and avoiding the negative impact.”

Concordia Economic Development Director Heather Malone said she confirmed Thursday the company was working with the Louisiana Workforce Commission to secure rapid response funds, which could help pay for employee retraining and other services.

“That was high on my list to make sure the company was working with them for those funds,” Malone said. “The commission will be in the driver’s seat to get all of that started.

“At this point, our main concern is getting those employees trained and able to reenter the workforce.”

Vidalia Apparel is and has been for many years, Malone said, one of the largest private employers in the Miss-Lou.

In 2011, the company extended operating hours and added 28 new jobs to its workforce.

In a November 2013 preliminary report of employment rates in the state, the Louisiana Workforce Commission estimated 6,829 residents in Concordia Parish were employed. The nearly 150 jobs being lost represent 2.19 percent of the employed workforce in Concordia Parish.

The company paid $1.5 million in parish property taxes last year with Union Underwear Company paying $985,296.31 and Martin Mills paying $522,034.59.

Attempts to reach Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland Wednesday and Thursday were unsuccessful.

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