Milliken plant gone, but effects will linger

First Byline: 
David Purtell - Staff Writer

The old Milliken plant on Jackson Street in Barnwell is gone, but the city and county have lost more than just a building.
The plant opened in the 1950s - it was owned by Amerotron then and bought by the Milliken Company in the ‘60s - at its peak it employed over 1,000 people in the textile industry. The plant closed in 2009 and 125 jobs were lost along with revenue that went to the county and city.
In fiscal year 2008-09, the county collected about $326,000 from Milliken, including $106,000 from a fee-in-lieu of taxes agreement, according to Barnwell County Treasurer Wendall Gibson Jr. In fiscal year 2009-10, a total of $252,000 was collected. The next year it dropped to just under $96,000.
Since 2011, the company has only paid the assessed property tax.
The plant sat on 76 acres of land. The property tax for that parcel of land was $44,199 in 2013, which means the county and its school districts are missing out on nearly $300,000 a year. The county's budget this year is nearly $14 million dollars.
The situation is worse for the city of Barnwell.
When the plant was open, the water bill was being collected by the city. The revenue coming in from the plant was consistently well over $200,000 before 2005 when the plant began to scale production back. In 2009, Milliken paid $195,000 for its water use, John Zawacki, Barnwell city administrator, said.
In the past three years, the city has seen no revenue come from the plant, Zawacki said.
Shortly after Milliken announced it was closing, the Hanesbrands Inc. plant on Dunbarton Boulevard closed - another 300 jobs lost. Socks were knitted at the plant and its sewer bill alone resulted in over $300,000 annually for the city.
Zawacki said Milliken and the Hanesbrands plants together accounted for one-third of the city's annual $1.5 million water and sewer budget. And, he said, surplus funds from the water department, $100,000 to $150,000 a year, were transferred to the city's general fund after each year's audit.
Zawacki said the city was hit hard when the plants closed. He said city employees haven't had a raise in three years and several projects have been stalled.
Also, the loss of over 400 jobs means less money being spent at local businesses and less tax revenue going to the city and county. If people can't find jobs they won't live here.
If 400 county residents found work in Barnwell tomorrow, the county's unemployment rate would drop from its November level of 11.5 percent to 6.5 percent - below the state and national averages.
"It's significant stuff," Zawacki said about the impact on the county's economy.