Cotton mills given new life

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2003

"It's a nice Christmas present for the entire county." That was the opinion voiced by Covington County Economic Development Commission Director Tucson Roberts about the finalization of the sale of Micolas Mills. If all proceeds according to plan, the sale of the mill to Meriturn Partners by Johnston Industries would be finalized this week.

"It will employ 150

people who were heretofore going to be unemployed, so it's a wonderful thing," said Roberts.

Roberts said he did not know what the plans were for Opp Mills, and that he believed it was still in bankruptcy court. As far as Meriturn's plans for Micolas Mills, Roberts expressed hope for the future.

"At this point, we take what we can get. Hopefully, it will work out to where they can ultimately expand. They have an excellent work force over there in Opp who are experts in that industry and they couldn't find

better people to work. They're going to keep the Micolas side going."

According to Marvin A. Davis, Chief Restructuring Officer for Johnston Industries, reports in other media about a change in manufacturing are incorrect. One report had stated the mill would switch from producing fiber goods to plastics.

"They got that totally wrong," he said. "Micolas is going to continue to produce. It will still be Johnston Industries. They are going to do what they've been doing all along - making fiber products like they always have been. The people at Micolas are going to be continued to be employed, just by a new company."

Mark Kehaya of Meriturn confirmed earlier reports that the closing of the deal would take place this week.

"Tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday," he said. "We are expecting everything to go smoothly."

He was not able to discuss the details of the closing in great detail at the time.

"At the moment we're 100 percent focused on getting the deal closed," he said.

Meriturn, headquartered in San Francisco, Calif.,

and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. recently signed a letter of intent to buy a substantial portion of Johnston's assets, including plants in Opp, Phenix City and Valley (Shawmut). Grisanti, Galef and Goldress is the financial advising group currently working on negotiations between Johnston Industries and the Meriturn Partners. At the time the letter of intent was signed, Katie Goodman of Grisanti, Galef and Goldress said she believed there was a buyer interested in the Opp Mills property.

Goodman also stated that Meriturn intends to keep Micolas Mill running and would retain Tommy Cooper, vice president of manufacturing, and CEO Gene Cone.

"What's wonderful is that the management team will stay in place," she said.

At that time, Goodman also indicated that Meriturn might expand.

"It wouldn't make sense to not grow," she said. "Their entire aim is to buy businesses such as this. They are looking at running the business into the future as a going concern and at growing a business."

She said that Meriturn was not the sort of organization that purchased troubled companies then shut them down and broke them apart to sold them piecemeal.

"They work with companies, basically middle market companies who need restructuring or turnaround," said Goodman. "They specifically target turnaround opportunities."

Johnston Industries announced on Jan. 31, 2003 that it had filed voluntary Chapter 11 reorganization. After Opp Mills closed and Micolas cut back production, approximately 380 jobs were lost, 170

with Opp and 210 with Micolas.