Johnston closing Opp Mill

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2003

On a day when neighboring Elba was celebrating the arrival of a new industry to employ up to 125 people, the town of Opp was sent reeling from the announcement that Johnston Industries' Opp Mill would be closed. It was moment that employees of the long-standing Covington County landmark had hoped would never come, but did.

In a release from Johnston Industries corporate office in Columbus, Ga., the statement simply read, "Johnston announced the difficult decision of shutting down its Opp Mill greige weaving and Micolas Mill spinning operations in Opp, Alabama."

That difficult decision was confirmed by Tommy Cooper of Johnston Industries Opp office.

"It truly was a difficult decision for the company to make," Cooper said. "These workers at the Opp Mill are highly efficient, cost-effective and skilled. They are what has kept this mill going for so many years. Johnston, like every other company in the textile business, finds itself competing with what seems like an unfair overseas market. It's a day we had all hoped would never come, but sadly, it has. The workers and their families have my undying heartfelt sympathies with the closing. It affects us all as a family, community and county."

Johnston President and Chief Executive Officer L. Gene Cone also offered a statement regarding the mill's closure, "Our employees at Opp and Micolas made these mills the best greige mills in the world. Unfortunately, being the best greige mill in the world isn't enough if you are competing against unfair foreign producers. I deeply regret the impact this will have on many of our loyal Johnston employees and communities in which they reside. I feel confident the remaining Johnston operations are positioned for a more stable future."

Although the Opp Mill will be closing, all is not lost for the workers. The Micolas Mill will continue to operate, only on a much scaled back level, Cooper said.

"The Opp Mill will be the only full closure," he said. "Micolas will be scaled back, but it will continue to operate."

Part of the overall restructuring of Johnston's Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, Cooper said the decision to close the Opp Mill was just announced Thursday afternoon.

"The company just made the announcement Thursday and we notified our employees as soon as we found out," he said. "The closure had been considered as part of the move through Chapter 11, but no formal decision or announcement was made until Thursday."

As part of the closure, Cooper said every effort will be made to accommodate displaced workers.

"We will contact ADECA to find out what benefits are available to the workers and offer what assistance we can to help these families," he said.

The closure, which won't be immediate, will instead be a gradual slowing over the next few months -- leading to a complete shutdown.

"Over the next 60 days, when we start back from our summer shutdown, we will begin phasing out all operations," Cooper said. "It is expected that all operations at the Opp Mill will be completed by mid-August."

When asked is he had heard the news regarding the impending closure of the Opp Mill, Covington County Commission Chairman Greg White said he had been notified.

"I have heard about it, but I won't people in Covington County to know that there are people working behind the scenes to bring new industry to Covington County."