Tuesday, November 27, 2001

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) Gov.-elect Mark R. Warner said yesterday that a top priority for his administration will be to install an economic-crisis strike force in Southside Virginia to help local officials deal with 2,300 layoffs that will come when the region’s biggest employer leaves.
VF Imagewear (East), which makes knit clothing, announced just before the Thanksgiving holiday that it is moving some operations overseas and will close a textile mill, sewing plant and administrative offices in the area.
Mr. Warner likened the strike force to an emergency crew arriving at the scene of a flood. Emergency personnel would help local social services agencies prepare for the fallout of a massive number of layoffs.
State money would not be allocated to help people pay their bills, Mr. Warner said.
“Southside’s economic challenges were not created overnight, and they will not be solved overnight,” Mr. Warner told a gathering of about 60 business leaders and city and county officials.
“From where I came from, family takes care of family,” Mr. Warner said. “Together, we will rise.”
The layoffs are part of a national effort by VF Corp., the company’s parent firm, to reduce costs. VF will release 13,000 of its 71,500 employees worldwide, saving about $115 million annually.
Martinsville’s economic woes will be an early test for Mr. Warner, who invested the final days of his campaign courting voters in Virginia’s backcountry, who were upset about Gov. James S. Gilmore III and the Republican-led legislature’s handling of the budget. Mr. Warner edged Republican challenger Mark L. Earley by about 5,000 votes in Southside.
Southside Virginia, once known as the “sweat shirt capital of the world,” has been reeling from factory layoffs during the past decade. Henry County Administrator Sid Clower said this month that 10,000 jobs have been cut since 1994.
The unemployment rate has hovered around 12 percent in Martinsville and 7 percent in the surrounding area, well above the state average. Local business leaders have been working to bring more companies to the region, but the new employers so far have been unable to absorb the legion of workers leaving local factories.

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