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Lincoln County losing industry, 119 jobs

BROOKHAVEN — Hartwell Industries officials Monday announcedplans to close the Auburn Sportswear plant in August, a move thatwill affect about 119 employees at the long-time Brookhaven cut andsew clothing facility.

Peter Armstrong, chief financial officer for the Hartwell,Ga.-based industry, cited production costs as the reason forclosing the Brookhaven facility and another facility in Bellcraft,Ga. He said the company had been closely reviewing expenses overthe last 12 months.

“We have come to the conclusion that we can’t continue toproduce products on a domestic basis and still be competitive inthe market place,” Armstrong said.

Employees were notified of shut down plans Monday, Foster said.The plant is expected to close on Aug. 17.

“It’s not a question of the quality or workmanship of theemployees at Brookhaven or Bellcraft,” Armstrong said. “The workersdo an excellent job.”

The Brookhaven plant cuts and sews jackets and fleece garmentswhile the Bellcraft facility, which has approximately 86 employees,sews shirts and jackets.

“We are extremely saddened to announce these closings, but afterextensive study of our apparel business it became clear that weneeded to reduce our domestic capacity, while continuing to expandour manufacturing capabilities in Mexico, Central America andAsia,” said Jay Gully, Hartwell president and chief executiveofficer, in a statement.

Some employees, who asked not to be identified, said they wereshocked and upset about the announcement. Others were hopeful tofind employment elsewhere.

“It’s tough luck,” said mechanic Greg Barksdale, of WestLincoln.

Barksdale came to the Brookhaven facility in January afterworking four years at a sewing operation in Tylertown before itclosed last year. He speculated that labor costs were part of thereason for moving operations out of the U.S.

“I don’t see how they’re saving any money after they ship it allback up here,” Barksdale said.

City, county and chamber of commerce officials were alsonotified Monday of the upcoming closure.

“Auburn and Hartwell Industries have always been a goodcorporate citizen,” said Chandler Russ, executive vice-president ofthe Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re sorry tohave lost them, but it’s something that did not catch us offguard.”

Russ said thousands of cut and sew jobs have left the countrydue to labor costs.

A rapid response team from the Mississippi Development Authority(MDA) is expected to come to Brookhaven prior to the plant closingto assist employees in finding new jobs. Russ said the chamber willwork with MDA and the Mississippi Employment Security Commission tohelp workers find new employment or job training.

“On a positive outlook, we’ve got an experienced labor pool withgood work history,” Russ said about the Auburn employees. “It canbe advantageous when employees are looking to locate.”

The facility on Main Street has been in Brookhaven since the1930s.

It opened as Stahl Urban and later operated under the Kellwoodname. It had been Auburn Sportswear since 1983, with Hartwellacquiring the facility in 1997.

John Endicott, chairman of the Industrial DevelopmentFoundation, said it was disappointing to see the many cut and sewjobs go out of the country. Like Russ, he said the chamber’s thrustwill be helping workers find new employment.

“Auburn has been a very valuable member of our manufacturingcommunity for many years,” Endicott said. “It’s very disappointingto see them exit from our industrial community.”