- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

FRANKLIN, Va. | New Year’s Eve is the beginning of the end of International Paper Corp.’s hulking presence in southern Isle of Wight County.

It’s also the last day of work for Vernon Baugham, a second-generation, 24-year veteran paper mill employee. A pipe fitter who grew up watching his father work at the mill, Mr. Baugham is among the first wave of employees to lose their jobs as part of the company’s massive shutdown.

International Paper stunned the region in October when it announced that the company would be shuttering its local plants in 2010 and laying off more than 1,100 people by next spring.

“It’s going to be hard,” Mr. Baugham said as he was leaving work Tuesday. “I’m not sure what I will be doing although I have applications out in Chesapeake, Norfolk and in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. Everything is on the table right now.

Although Mr. Baugham has nine relatives working at International Paper, he is the only one poised to lose his job this week.

International Paper spokesman Desmond Stills refused to say how many layoffs are expected this week, saying the company is keeping mum on any details out of respect for employees.

In an October letter to the county, International Paper indicated that it would terminate 166 hourly workers - mostly paper mill and operational service employees - on Dec. 31.

Employees have been taking advantage of the state’s rapid-response center stationed at the paper mill, said Phillip Bradshaw, the Carrsville representative on the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors.

The program, administered by Opportunity Inc. Chief Executive Judy Begland, has offered a plethora of services for employees, including a career fair that drew more than 500 people and outreach services to help employees write resumes, prepare for interviews and sign up for unemployment benefits.

Several former International Paper employees have already gotten new jobs at Northrop Grumman and other companies in the region, Mr. Bradshaw said.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty, but I think things are moving in a positive direction,” said Mr. Bradshaw, a former International Paper employee.

Also, on Dec. 23, the U.S. Department of Labor approved Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits, which are designated for workers who lose their jobs because of foreign trade, for the 1,100 employees being displaced by the paper mill’s closure.

Workers will have access to a variety of extra benefits and services through the TAA, including job retraining; income support while enrolled full time in a training program; job search and relocation allowances; and a tax credit to help offset the cost of health insurance, according to a press release issued by U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, Virginia Democrats. The program also provides wage supplements to certain re-employed, trade-affected workers age 50 and older.

Mr. Baugham is facing a lot of uncertainties as he heads into 2010. While saddened, Mr. Baugham said he is confident that Isle of Wight and Franklin will recover from the devastating loss of International Paper.

“People have always said Franklin would be a ghost town if it weren’t for the paper mill,” he said. “But I feel like something pretty big will be heading for Franklin in the next couple of years.”

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