Local News

Plant closure puts nearly 400 people out of work in Elm City

Posted October 23, 2008 11:25 p.m. EDT
Updated October 24, 2008 6:56 a.m. EDT

— The closing of the IWCO Direct plant has left nearly 400 workers in Wilson County unemployed.

IWCO Direct, 6030 US Hwy 301, prints and ships direct-mail advertisements. Officials told employees Thursday morning that the plant would be closing immediately.

Company officials said the credit crunch around the country led to fewer credit card advertisements to mail out. The plant's equipment and operations are being moved to the company's headquarters in Chanhassen, Minn.

With a population of 1,500, the loss of 380 jobs will affect the small town’s economy.

“Something was wrong. I knew something was wrong,” former employee Herman Sanders said.

Sanders said he and his 379 co-workers learned about the plant's closing during a morning staff meeting.

“I think they were surprised. I think most of them thought maybe it would be a layoff. I don't think most of them thought that it was going to shut down,” Sanders said.

Sanders planned to retire in February, so he says he will be okay. However, that is not the case for many of his co-workers who must find work in a town with few jobs.

“Where do they go from here? That's the part that bothers me, where do they go from here. There are no jobs,” Sanders said.

“I think it is a big shock,” former employee Jim Boykin said.

Boykin worked at the plant back in the early 1970's. Like many people in Elm City, he says the town will not be the same without it.

“That plant's been here 30-plus years, with really, no interruption. There's been different owners, but there's really been no interruption in employment,” Boykin said.

Elm City joins communities across the country struggling to keep jobs.

“There's so many of them. I was seeing the news, how many thousands and thousands of jobs are being lost,” Elm City resident Susan Ruddon said.

A “skeleton crew” will finish up a “couple of projects,” company spokesperson Deborah Haskel said.

“It hurt a lot of people. I mean, I felt bad for a lot of people, especially my brother. I have a brother who works out there. So I felt kind of bad for him, and I feel bad for the younger people,” Sanders said.

Elm City faced loss of jobs in 2006 when Cox Target Media said it would close the plant as part of its Valpak operation. Some 440 people worked there at the time. That October, IWCO said it would purchase the facility, retain most of the extant work force and invest $18.9 million in upgrades over three years. It got $375,000 in incentives from the state and announced plans to add 98 jobs.

In a statement Thursday on the about-face, IWCO Chief Executive Officer Jim Andersen the company needed to act “aggressively” due to the economic environment.

“These are difficult actions we must take to aggressively and pre-emptively react to the industry-wide decline in volume,” he said.

Laid-off IWCO Direct employees will receive two months pay and benefits.