Hanesbrands to close plant in Barnwell by spring

Barnwell County -- already hit by several economic downturns -- was struck again.

The Hanesbrands Inc. plant, located in the city of Barnwell, will close by spring of this year.

Hanesbrands Inc. released a statement about the closing from its Winston-Salem, N.C. corporate office Jan. 14.

The closing of the Barnwell plant means a loss of 310 jobs for the area, according to the Hanesbrands Inc. press release.

Unconfirmed reports were that Barnwell Hanesbrands workers were told of the impending closing the night of Jan. 13 and the morning of Jan. 14 during shift changes.

The plant knits socks and will close by the end of April 2009 at the latest, according to the company.
The Barnwell plant also contained a small retail outlet shop where it sold Hanes brand apparel.

However, others anticipate the plant will be closed by the first week of April.

The company will offer severance benefits and assistance to workers in changing to other jobs.

"These decisions are made with real regret," said Matt Hall, the vice president of external communications. "It is not a reflection of the workforce."

The decision on the plant closing was based on global economics, Hall said.

Locally, the Hanesbrands plant is known as the "sock plant" or the "Sara Lee plant," a reference to the Sara Lee company, which is the original parent company. Hanesbrands Inc. spun off from the Sara Lee company in the fall of 2006 to be its own publicly traded entity.

The 240,000-square-foot plant had been in operation in Barnwell since 1993. Much of its production demand will be moved to the Hanesbrands sock-knitting plant in San Juan Opico, El Salvador. That plan began production in late 2008. The balance of work will be redirected to its Mount Airy, N.C. plant, according to the press release.

Hanesbrands plans to sell the facility later, according to a corporate statement.

News of the closing spread quickly through the sparsely populated county. Barnwell County's population is about 23,500 people.

The closing follows soon after another textile plant in Barnwell -- Milliken -- announced Dec. 17 that it would be closing its facility in mid-2009. That closing will affect 125 people.

"This is tough, but it's not like it's not happening elsewhere," said Marty Martin, the director of the Barnwell County Economic Development Corporation. "This is the fourth plant closure in five years."

"I hate it. I hate it. We are already dealing with furloughs and cutbacks and whatever," he said. "The real issue here is there are no jobs."

Even before news of the closure broke, the Barnwell County Council passed an amendment Jan. 6 to its 2008-09 budget causing all county employees to take five days of mandatory unpaid furloughs because of budget cutbacks. The move will save the county government about $115,000 overall.

Other agencies in the area have been placing employees on furloughs to save money too.

"It's quite bad timing - it's an eye-opener," said Barnwell Mayor Ed Lemon.

"These are our two biggest water users," he said of the Hanesbrands and Milliken plants.

"That's a double-big hit in the same year. We hope we will not have to raise our water rates too much. That's going to hurt a little town like Barnwell," Lemon said.

The city of Barnwell charges Hanesbrands for using its wastewater treatment plant but didn't know how much water it used. The Milliken plant, when it was at full capacity, used about 12 million gallons of water monthly, Lemon said.

The plant closing will have many side effects.

For Fred Geier, it means the loss of a major contributor.

Geier is the director of the Barnwell County United Way.

"They have been a major contributor an they will be missed," he said.

Geier said Hanesbrands employees in Barnwell had contributed about $14,000 to its campaign.

"This is going to have a negative impact on what we do. It's not good news at all," he said.

A rapid response team, which is composed of people from the S.C. Department of Commerce and the S.C. Employment Security Commission will meet with the Barnwell workers soon, said Guy Ferguson, the director of the Barnwell office of the Employment Security Commission.

The team will explain to the workers what their options are and how to apply for unemployment benefits, he said.

"We will try to make it as painless as possible. It's certainly going to impact Barnwell County, Allendale County and the surrounding areas," Ferguson said.

Laid-off workers are initially eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. The maximum amount a person can draw for unemployment is about $326 weekly, he said.