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New Louisiana project promises 300 jobs for Natchez area

VIDALIA — A new cotton mill aimed at taking raw cotton and turning it into denim fabric was announced Thursday with promises to bring at least 300 jobs and generate a minimum of $9 million in payroll by the middle of 2019.

“It’s a great day, I believe, for everyone in the area,” Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said. “It was difficult to hear the news that Fruit of the Loom was vacating Vidalia (announced in 2016) but we have found the silver lining with the investment of Vidalia Denim and the creation of 300 quality jobs in our community.”

Craft said the secrecy that cloaked the project for more than a year was necessary.

“I apologize for the secrecy of it,” the mayor said. “If something like this gets out early it dies or someone comes to pluck it away from you. … We handled this the best we could to bring us to this day.”

The details of the project — which had been in the works since May 2016 — were revealed during a public hearing necessary as part of the final sales closing process of Vidalia Denim’s purchase of the 900,000 square-foot town building, formerly occupied by Fruit of the Loom.

The town acquired the property when Fruit of the Loom closed in 2017.

The project had publicly been referred to as Project Blue, obviously a nod by economic developers to the color most denim is dyed.

Vidalia Denim, the brand of Vidalia Industrial Facilities, purchased the building including 74 acres and an onsite wastewater treatment facility for $12 million, with the town offering $8 million of the purchase price back to provide infrastructure improvements.

The company says it will purchase Louisiana grown cotton and with a 24 hours a day, seven days a week spinning, dying and weaving processes in the new facility turn that cotton into denim fabric for use in clothing manufacturing.

Executive Director of Natchez Inc. Chandler Russ said town officials agreed to grant $8 million of the purchase price for approved capital improvements to the site in exchange for job performance and economic activity in the coming years.

“Natchez Inc. has enjoyed working with Vidalia Denim, the Town of Vidalia and Concordia Economic Development to make this project a reality,” Russ said. “Vidalia Denim’s commitment to generate a minimum $9 million annual payroll will improve our average annual wages in Concordia Parish and the Miss-Lou region.

“Vidalia Denim, a textile manufacturer, is allowing our labor force to diversify its skill-sets to a new type of industry. We are excited to have a local manufacturer utilize raw material from our delta agricultural lands to produce a fabric that will be worn worldwide.”

Dan Thompson, the Executive Director of Vidalia Denim, said the industry expects operations to begin in March or April 2019.

“We’re looking at another 90 days of design, planning and permitting,” Thompson said, “and another (nine months) of construction. … We hope to be in production and some of the first denim rolling off at the end of the first quarter or the first of the second quarter of 2019.”

Vidalia Denim’s CEO Dan Feibus was also at the hearing. Feibus is listed with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office as being a principal in a number of past business ventures.

The new manufacturing company promises advanced technologies and processes that eliminate waste and create an environmentally sustainable manufacturing processing of denim fabric, which will sell to brand name manufacturers such as Wrangler.

Thompson said the industry also promises a minimum of 300 local jobs with $30,000 average annual salaries plus benefits. Vidalia Denim also has said it will invest $50 million into the project.

“We’ll be working with a lot of areas around here,” Thompson said. “If I can get 300 people out of Vidalia, I’ll take 300 people. We will provide training. The only people (hired) outside of the state of Louisiana will be the upper management. Everybody else we train and develop here locally.”

Vidalia officials opened the floor for public comments and objections to the new industry Thursday before the final documents were signed, and no objections were raised.

Vidalia citizens and Natchez officials congratulated and welcomed Vidalia Denim to the community, including the outgoing chairman of the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce, Tate Hobdy.

“I think its great for the (town) of Vidalia,” Hobdy said. “If there’s anything we can do on the other side of the river, please reach out. We’re happy to help.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture guaranteed a $25 million loan for Vidalia Industrial Facilities from Jefferson Financial Federal Credit Union to purchase, renovate and equip the textile facility. In addition to the USDA’s Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, the Small Business Administration is also providing support through its loan guarantee program. Through that program, the new company will receive a $5 million loan from Greater Nevada Credit Union for additional equipment and working capital.

“At USDA Rural Development, the opportunity to invest $25 million to support creating 300 jobs in a persistent poverty parish with an unemployment rate that is 150 percent of the state’s average is an honor,” said Dr. Carrie Castille, USDA Rural Development state director. “With the repurposing of the Fruit of Loom plant that had been shuttered … the people of Vidalia will have the chance to welcome a new manufacturer to the delta and bring back jobs that had previously left this historically impoverished area.”