150 let go from Vidalia Fruit of the Loom plant

Published 12:13 am Thursday, January 9, 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 — One of the largest private employers in the Miss-Lou, Fruit of the Loom’s Vidalia Apparel plant, announced this week it would lay off nearly 150 of its 260 employees beginning in March.

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

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“This decision is in no way a reflection on the efforts of our employees,” Senior Vice President of Distribution Bill Tucker stated in the release. “We thank all our dedicated employees for their service and encourage other area employers to give these excellent workers every consideration for employment opportunities.”

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.

Facility manager Derrick Means did not return messages Wednesday.

Concordia Parish Economic Director Heather Malone said she received a call from Mayor Hyram Copeland Tuesday morning informing her of the announcement.

“This is not news you ever want to hear, but what we want the community to understand is that it wasn’t a decision made because we have a poor business climate or workforce,” Malone said. “From our understanding, it was purely a corporate decision the company made in its plan to reposition some plants and other things.”

Malone said conversations with Fruit of the Loom officials were positive Tuesday and Wednesday, and there was no indication of a decline in the plant’s operations.

“From what I understand, this is still going to be a highly functioning plant and, of course, we can only be optimistic in saying that it will continue to be a successful plant,” Malone said. “In our most recent meeting with them, the Vidalia plant was listed as their No. 1 distribution facility with the company.”

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 28 new jobs to its workforce.

Vidalia alderman and mayor pro-tem Vernon Stevens said any announcement of jobs lost in the area is difficult to hear.

“You certainly hate to see any jobs lost, but there was nothing Vidalia could do about it because it was a decision the company made based on their financial needs,” Stevens said. “Now, we just need to try and help those who have lost their jobs and relocate them to other jobs.”

Stevens said the company and plant grew to be a critical part of the community after locating to Vidalia.

“It started out as a small site and built up to what it is now with the workforce they’ve gotten from the area,” Stevens said. “They’ve made the decision to reduce the workforce, but hopefully this might be a situation that can be remedied in the future, and some of those jobs might open again in the future.”

Concordia Chamber of Commerce Director Jamie Wiley said the announcement came as a shock to her.

“With that number of employees losing their jobs, it hits a small community pretty hard,” Wiley said. “Hopefully, our business community will reach out to those who are laid off and find room in their businesses for at least one employee.”

Malone said offering training and other services to employees who will soon lose their jobs is crucial to ensure their success with other companies.

“You always want to try and find the positive in things, and the positive here is that we’re going to be able to turn around and tell some of the businesses interested in coming to the area that there’s a new workforce out there ready to go,” Malone said. “We want to do whatever we can to get this workforce retrained as soon as possible.”

Malone said she is seeking rapid response funding through the Louisiana Workforce Commission, which helps employees affected by major layoffs and plant closings by offering services such as job placement assistance, resume preparation assistance and occupational retraining, among other things.

Apart from assisting those employees, Malone said business would continue as usual for the economic development office as they continue to recruit companies to the parish and care for those already here.

“This may be a step back, but we’ll continue to work to provide businesses a place to locate or existing ones a place to expand their operations,” Malone said. “This is a good reminder to us all that it’s not just about attracting the new businesses and industries, but we need to be retaining and growing what we already have here.”