WPS to shut NC plant

Don Hogsett, Staff Staff, April 28, 2003

WestPoint Stevens said it will shut down the remainder of its Rosemary plant complex in Roanoke Rapids, NC, as it scraps a plan to expand its basic bedding business.

Preparations to shutter the plant will begin early next month, and the plant will ultimately close by June 28, with about 320 Rosemary workers being laid off.

"The company has decided that this plant will not be converted to produce basic bedding product as previously announced," said Art Birkins, president of the basic bedding division. Recent capital investments in current facilities "have provided us with a dramatic increase in efficiency and yield — all the capacity we require for both our immediate and long-term growth," said Birkins.

"To stay competitive in a market that's increasingly global, it's necessary to constantly scrutinize our operations to eliminate any excess capacity."

WestPoint had acquired the plants in 1997 after the collapse of The Bibb Company, which had earlier purchased the plants as part of a complex deal in which Bibb joined forces with WestPoint to buy and divvy up the former J.P. Stevens Co. The greige manufacturing plant at Rosemary had been closed in 2001.

The June plant closing will bring down the curtain on one of the most painful and contentious chapters in the history of the entire American textiles industry — the pitched battles of the '60s and '70s between J.P. Stevens and the union. The Roanoke Rapids complex was the site of the infamous "Norma Rae" incident, which became a rallying point for the union. Not made clear at the time, or in the movie that later won Sally Field an Academy Award for playing the title character, was that the historical Norma Rae was an office worker, not the factory worker depicted in the movie.

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