Long term effects of mill closing uncertain

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2003

When Johnston Industries announced the closing of the Opp Mill and scaled back operations of the Micolas Mill, shock waves were felt throughout Covington County. Perhaps none were felt as strongly as in Opp itself. Hundreds of people would now be unemployed, but beyond that, the potential domino effect remains to be seen.

Although the closing is just one business, dozens stand to be affected -- everything from health care to retail to education.

According to Rene LeMaire, marketing director at Mizell Memorial Hospital, the closure will not affect the quality of health care at the facility.

"We are very confident in the fact that our industrial recruiters are working diligently to attract new businesses for our community," LeMaire said. "Our biggest concern right now is for the welfare of the employees who are displaced and continuing to provide them with the highest level of care possible.

"We have employees with spouses who work at the mill, and we are of course concerned about them, but this will not affect our quality of care in any way."

The Opp City Schools are another area where potential harm could be done due to the mill's closure. Dr. Tim Lull, superintendent of Opp City Schools said he is unsure how the situation at the mill will affect the school system overall.

"We know there is around $200,000 that we will lose in tax revenue from the mill's closure," Lull said. "How that translates just yet, we don't know, but our biggest concern is the potential loss of students that could occur."

Lull said a large loss of students due to parents leaving Opp in search of employment could be devastating on the school system.

"It could be potentially devastating," he said. "Our initial numbers indicated we had stopped our decline, but with this, we don't know yet."

A decline in students would mean a decline in available teaching positions for the system, leading to an elimination of programs or teachers doubling up in areas that they are qualified to teach as well.

"We might have teachers who are qualified in other areas having to teach multiple subjects," he said. "We just don't know yet."

A loss in students could also mean a loss in teaching units on the state level, with state teaching units determined by the enrollment figures for a school.

"We're being cautious and hopeful that things will work out," he said. "We're waiting for a complete package before we are able to make a final determination."

For retail businesses, the loss of jobs could spell an end to extra purchases.

Dora McBride, a worker at an Opp retail store, said shortly after the announcement was made that she's afraid the mill announcement will effect her employment significantly.

"It will hurt us (at work) because people won't have as much money to spend. They will only by the things that are absolutely necessary, and not anything extra. There expendable income is gone," she said.

However, as Opp and Covington County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director James Kelsoe said shortly after the announcement, economic officials are continuing to look for new industries to replace the mill, and are hopeful that those potential new industries will find a new home in Opp and Covington County.