Fateful day remembered when Sanford announced its plan to close

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

They're down, but not out, and the plant closure was like déjà vu for some of them.

Former Sanford worker Prissy Nance has been in this position before; looking for a job after a plant closure.

Nance made men's shoes at the Genesco plant for 13-1/2 years. Then she worked at Weather Tamers in Lewisburg, and now she's looking back on 21 years at Sanford.

"I really wish the government would look at those free trade agreements," Nance said.

The North American Free Trade Agreement began on Jan. 1, 1994, to remove most barriers to trade and investment among the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Other trade laws have made it attractive for businesses to move production jobs to other countries.

Sanford has eliminated some pencil manufacturing. It's been producing art pencils in Bogotá, Columbia, said David Doolittle, a spokesman for Sanford's parent company Newell Rubbermaid Inc.

"We're losing jobs," Nance continued. "And we're letting too many foreign goods in.

"And what industry they're getting here is so small," she complained of new plants hiring about 50 people.

Sanford employed 355 at its pencil factory here.

"I think Lewisburg messed up by not working with Sanford for that place," Nance said of the ink factory that Sanford is developing in Manchester where land was made available at little or no cost.

Lewisburg's Business Park on the north side of Mooresville Highway was a prospective location, but city officials decided against giving it away.

"We almost had it here," says Amanda Childress, the daughter of Roger Childress who worked at Sanford for years and then had that job eliminated.

"That morning they called both shifts into one room," he said of the announcement that the plant would be closing. "It was in November. There was speculation and rumors. Everybody asked why, but it was from a business standpoint.

"Nothing personal; just business," he said.

Fay Toy took a computer class at the community college with Roger Childress and she, too, recalled that morning some 16 months ago.

"They said we were a good work force," Toy said.

Childress asks, "If we were so good, why would they close us, instead of those who wouldn't do so well?

"This is the second time it's hit me," Childress aid. "I was with ICP. When I left ICP, I thought I'd have security. I had 25 years with ICP and had six years with Sanford...

"I don't think there's any future in manufacturing in the United States," he said. "If you're going to get a job, I think you're going to have to provide a service."