State team to help IP employees

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A state Rapid Response team will visit Natchez’s International Paper mill today to plan what assistance it will offer employees and set up dates for consulting one-on-one with workers about their needs.

Meanwhile, a state economic development official also said Tuesday that the area probably qualifies for a federal grant to help pay for those services. A job fair is also planned to help laid-off workers find new employment if possible.

Those meeting today at the mill will include company management and union officials.

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They will also include Rapid Response

Team members such as WIN Job Center Manager Peggy Ballard and representatives of Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Southwest Mississippi Planning and Development District.

That’s according to Jim Lott, director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Employment Training Division, whose staff also will be on hand for the meeting.

In the case of a plant closing, the team typically provides information on education and training, job searches and job placement assistance, resumes, unemployment and children’s health insurance, counseling and starting a business, among other assistance.

&uot;We’ll sit down and work out a plan of action on how we can start to assist employees directly,&uot; Lott said. &uot;Afterward, we’ll do a series of orientations with employees, but the timing (of those sessions) will depend on the advice of the company and officials.&uot;

The company has a good chance of qualifying for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Act funds &uot;because company officials are saying they’re closing because of competition, and they blame the international competition for that,&uot; Lott said.

Such money is used for a wide variety of supportive services for displaced employees, although it is not yet certain when such funds could be available if IP’s application is granted, Lott said.

It also allows unemployment benefits to be extended beyond the usual 26 weeks.

Meanwhile, the MDA will work with local officials to apply for a federal emergency grant such as the $3.2 million award the federal government gave in recent months following a plant closure in Clarke County, Lott said. &uot;We’d offer the same services we would normally offer,&uot; Lott said, but with such a grant &uot;it just goes further.

In addition, the MDA hopes to begin working with the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce and local officials in the next two weeks to set up a job fair for displaced employees as part of the Governor’s Job Fair Network.

Participants could include Nissan, and Lott said IP workers would be in a better position than most to fill those jobs.

&uot;As local union officials told us, there are workers there (at IP) with a lot of skills &045; machinists, for instance &045; that could be transferred&uot; to similar jobs at an auto plant with minimal retraining, Lott said.

&uot;And they’ve got a proven track record of being able to do the work,&uot; he said.

A date and specific location for that job fair was not set as of Wednesday, but Lott said the MDA will publicize that event as soon as details are ironed out.