November 7, 2008

200 in Chester County lose jobs

CHESTER -- Chester County officials liked what they'd heard recently.

They saw plans for an ethanol plant near Chester, a testing facility along S.C. 99 and a massive furniture store in Fort Lawn as positive signs for a county struggling to recover from losing thousands of jobs during the past few years.

Then came Tuesday, when they learned Superior Essex, a plant they thought might expand, was shutting down, leaving more than 200 people out of work.

"It threw us for a loop," said Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey. "Every time we take a step forward ... looks like somebody knocks us backward about 10."

County officials knew the company laid off 22 people recently, but they'd heard promising talk about a new product line that might be coming to the local site.

That didn't happen.

Instead, the plant, which manufactures telephone cable, will officially close March 31, said Hank Pennington, the company's executive director of strategic development. Most workers will be gone before that date.

Atlanta-based Superior Essex is shutting down the plant because of a decrease in demand for its product, Pennington said.

A sluggish economy didn't help matters.

"It's a business that has been slowing somewhat over time anyway, as customers ultimately transition from copper to fiber," Pennington said. "That decline is something that we have to manage as part of our business. ... The economic downturn did create a more drastic decrease that called for more immediate action."

County officials still hope they can change the company's mind when they meet with Superior Essex representatives next week, said Hal Stone, the existing industry coordinator in the county's economic development office.

Timing, he said, makes the situation worse for those losing their jobs.

"It's not good, especially around Christmas," he said. "I hate it for all of them."

Chester County has the eighth-highest unemployment rate in the state, according to the latest figures from the S.C. Employment Security Commission.

More than 4,000 jobs have left the county since 2002, many of them from the textile industry.

In the past year, Chester County Adult Education has organized two job training workshops to help those looking for work.

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