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Fruit of the Loom plant closing in Jamestown

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Larry Rowell, Landmark News Service

By Larry Rowell
Casey County News

Steve Burchell shakes his head in utter disbelief as he talks about the news he received at work on Thursday.

“I’m shocked. There were people crying when they told us,” Burchell said, referring to Fruit of the Loom COO Tony Pelaski informing 601 employees that the textile plant in Jamestown was closing by Dec. 31. Layoffs will be scheduled in phases, beginning June 8, according to a letter given to employees.

But for Burchell, the closing was a deja vu event ― he was laid off from Fruit of the Loom in Campbellsville in 1998 after having been there more than 21 years.

“I started in Campbellsville on Jan. 22, 1977 and had perfect attendance while I was there,” he said.

Transferring to the Jamestown plant in 1998, Burchell, a mechanic in the knitting room, also boasts a record of never having missed a day in the 16 years he’s been there.

At 57 years of age, Burchell’s not sure what he’ll do when the job he now holds is terminated. And that day can come any time from now until Dec. 31.

As concerns future work prospects, Burchell is still trying to digest the layoff.

“I ain’t really thought about it. I just try and delete it out of my brain. You don’t really want to accept what has happened,” he said.

Nearing retirement age, Burchell also wonders what will happen with the money he has saved in his retirement account over the years.

“I don’t know exactly. We do have a 401K over there. I don’t know how that’s going to work. They haven’t given us that information yet,” he said.

But if there’s any silver lining at all in this scenario, it’s how Burchell will trade the stress of losing his job for another ― work related pressure.

“The stress level runs really high over there. They expect too much out of the older people. They forget it’s the older people who made the company what it is today,” Burchell said.

Gwen Russell, a Casey Countian who’s worked at the plant for almost three years, said that she was shocked to learn the news, and on her day off.

“I had already heard about it on Facebook and from friends working the day before,” said Russell, who will be 60 in November.

But Russell, who said that she enjoyed working at Fruit of the Loom, isn’t too worried about the future.

“I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll just wait and see what the Lord has in store,” she said.

The closure of the plant will also affect other businesses in Casey County and it’s only now beginning to become reality.

Economic impact

Kenny Pratt, who owns Pratt Trucking Company in Liberty, said that losing work for the Jamestown plant will hit his bottom line.

“It’s a pretty good chunk. It’s probably about $80,000 a year. We’ve done work for them for about 20 years. We work on their trailers,” Pratt said, adding he had no idea this was coming.
As to how many Casey Countians worked at the plant, a call placed to plant manager Jeff Wiles was not returned.

But the greatest financial loss to the area will be to the City of Jamestown and Russell County.

City Clerk Tony McGowan said that they are still reeling from the news and will have to make adjustments to Jamestown’s budget.
“It’s bad. But I don’t know how to explain $208,000 worth of bad,” McGowan said, referring to the occupational tax the city receives from the plant’s workers.

And it’s just not only the occupational tax that the city will lose.
“We sold them about $1.6 million in water and sewer last year,” he said.

The county will fare no better in what they lose.

Russell County Judge-Executive Gary Robertson said that the county also received occupational tax monies from the plant.

“We got about $165,000 in occupational taxes last year,” Robertson said.

Robertson received the news while attending a meeting in Frankfort where Gov. Steve Beshear was speaking.

“When he got done, I got a chance to talk to him and he wasn’t aware of anything. I told him we need all the help he can give us from their side of it with Economic Development and Workforce Services,” he said.

While workers, businesses, and government bodies are dealing with the loss, Burchell said he has a message for the company owned by Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway.

“Why are you taking all our jobs to Honduras? You don’t think we like to live a lifestyle of having a home and all the features that goes along with life? I like having insurance and retirement,” he said.