Looking to the future

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 29, 2001

In the wake of all the flurry and speculation about the closing of International Paper are real people &045; people who have built a life, home and family around this company, and the answer to how the community will survive will come when the mill employees decide where they go from here. For one mill employee, it’s his belief in God and trust in his family that is going to set him on course for a new future. Kevin Bandy of rural Franklin County said although the news didn’t come as a great surprise, he didn’t think it would come this soon.

&uot;It was disappointing of course, but I kind of expected it. I really didn’t expect it this soon. I expected it a year or two down the road,&uot; he said.

Bandy works in the powerhouse as a boiler and evaporator operator generating steam and electricity for the entire plant. He has more than 16 years invested in International Paper.

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&uot;If we make it to July, it will be 17,&uot; he said.

Bandy said he was working when the union president came into the plant around 11 a.m. Thursday to tell employees the plant was closing. He said what upset him the most was the information became general knowledge by noon, so he didn’t have a chance to get home to tell his children before they heard it elsewhere.

&uot;I felt like that wasn’t right,&uot; he said.

His wife, Regina, said the children heard about it at school.

&uot;He called me immediately, but our children found out before we could even talk to them,&uot; she said. &uot;That was kind of hard on them because the first thing they thought was we’re going to move.&uot;

The Bandy’s have four children, Gina, 15, Colin, 14, Tyler, 11, and Rachel, 5, all living at home. Kevin’s oldest son, Scott, is 21 and doesn’t live at home.

&uot;When you’ve got four children in your house, it’s kind of hard, Regina said.

Kevin said they will do better than some families because Regina has a well-paying job as a nurse for Franklin County Hospital.

&uot;I’ve got it a little easier than some people. A lot of the guys at the mill spouses don’t work. They’re the ones who are really hurting. They’ll have no income,&uot; he said.

Kevin said he expects his family’s income will be cut by a third after he gets another job, which means they will have to make adjustments to their lifestyle.

&uot;When I get another job, the chances of me making the money I’ve been making is very slim,&uot; he said.

&uot;The hardest thing for me is that I’m going to have to tell my children that the things you’ve been able to do, are doing and are accustomed to will most likely change,&uot; he said, with a catch in his voice.

Kevin said the family had a meeting on Friday to discuss their options.

&uot;They don’t want to move. If the job situation calls for us to move, then we’ll have to and that’s what I explained to them,&uot; he said. &uot;I think one of the reasons Regina and I are able to take it so well is our faith in God, and He’s going to take care and provide. It’s just seeing and being available for the opportunities when they come up.&uot;

Kevin said he has been sending out job feelers and family members are keeping their eyes open for him.

&uot;There are some options I’m kind of keeping under my hat right now because there’s going to be 650 people looking for a job, but I’ve already contacted some friends that have told me to get them some resumes. There’s a good chance I could go to work somewhere else,&uot; he said.

Those options would mean the family would have to move, but Kevin said he has told his family he will look for work in Brookhaven and Macomb first.

&uot;My worst case is if I have to, I’ll go off shore,&uot; he said.

Regina said jokingly that he could stay home and be Mr. Mom for a while.

&uot;If we had to move, that is what would really hurt me,&uot; she said.

Kevin said many of the guys will have to make some tough decisions in the next few months.

&uot;Now the hard part is somewhere between now and six months when we shut down. If someone offers me a job, I don’t have a date where I can go,&uot; he said.

The difficult part for employees in Kevin’s position is whether to take new jobs now, or hold out for their severance packages.

&uot;I’ve worked there almost 17 years and by our contract, I’m due so much money and I can’t hardly just walk away from that,&uot; he said. &uot;Those of us who have invested a lot of time are kind of in a catch-22. You could lose a good job waiting, but you could also turn down some money that could get you out of some debt,&uot;

Right now Kevin said management and union officials are discussing packages to determine exactly how employees are going to be let go and what kind of money they will receive.

&uot;Then there’s also the possibility of retraining for job displacement to get us back in the work force,&uot; he said.

Given the area of the mill in which Kevin works, his department will be one of the last departments to close.

&uot;We will be one of the last ones. We’ll turn the lights off because we generate the lights,&uot; he said.

Kevin said his family moved here from Louisiana when he was less than a year, and he doesn’t want to move from a place he has known for 40 years. As a long-term resident, he had some advice for getting the community back on its feet.

&uot;There’s something Natchez can do. Natchez can improve its public school system where it can get industry here. There’s been industry that’s come to look and turned away from Natchez. The No. 1 reason is because of the school system.&uot;

He believes the impact on Natchez will be drastic, but it also can recover if the right steps are taken.

&uot;Will Natchez dry up and go away? No. It will still be there, but if Natchez wants to grow and become a big player in Mississippi, it is going to have to improve its school system,&uot; he said.

He also suggested that the officials address access roads around the city.

&uot;My father started working on the four-land project more than 30 years ago. It doesn’t take that long to get four lanes and connect Natchez with the rest of the world. Somebody, something has held it back,&uot; he said.

In his opinion community members need to work together to bring more industry &045; and not gambling &045; in to the area.

&uot;If we are going to move forward, those are the kinds of things that are going to have to happen.&uot;

Kevin said he isn’t worried about his future because his faith is strong and he has his family’s support.

&uot;I know what I can do. For the last 11 years, I’ve placed my life in Jesus. I place everything in his hands, and I know He will take care of me,&uot; he said. &uot;That has a lot to do with my peace in what’s going on here. I’m going to make it. I’ve got confidence in that, and our family is going to do fine.&uot;