COLUMBIA -- South Carolina has lost more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs in the past month as the state's economy continues to sour.
The tiny town of Whitmire in Newberry County took the latest and biggest blow. The town's only major plant, owned by sock maker Renfro, is closing at the end of January, leaving 570 workers without a job.
Company officials told the workers Tuesday afternoon. Word then spread quickly through the town of just over 1,500 people, said Michael Dillard, who owns Joe's Market, the small grocery store his father opened 54 years ago on the main highway through town.
"It's pretty much our only industry. Only place you can really work outside of a small business," Dillard said Wednesday. "Everybody was a little shocked, but I think they expected it, too. I think it's a lot different time than it used to be. Textiles, in general, they are pretty much gone."
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It isn't just textile plants closing in a state that had the nation's fourth-highest unemployment rate in October at 8 percent. A Chester County plant that makes telephone cable will put 200 people out of work when it closes in March. Another 110 people at a North Charleston display cabinet and fixture plant will be looking for work by the end of February. On Monday, an Anderson County plant that makes carpet fibers announced it was closing in less than two months and letting 170 workers go.
The more than 1,000 jobs lost since Nov. 7 in South Carolina doesn't include 400 workers laid off at Vought Aircraft in Charleston and 300 employees temporarily let go from ArcelorMittal Steel in Georgetown. Both plants won't reopen until after the Christmas holidays.
Gov. Mark Sanford suspects unemployment rates will get worse. But he thinks the state will be spared somewhat because South Carolina still gets plenty of people moving in from northern states. Also, state officials are busy recruiting more companies to South Carolina "in part because of the low dollar and European possibilities."
Renfro, based in Mount Airy, N.C., has more than 5,200 employees with plants in Clinton, Fort Payne, Ala., and Cleveland, Tenn., as well as Mexico, India, Pakistan and China.
Whitmire Mayor Tim Carroll said about 230 of the plant's employees lived in the area.
The mill used 40 percent of the water generated by the town's treatment plant, and Carroll said the loss of that revenue means repairs to city streets and other maintenance likely will be delayed. Layoffs are possible at the water plant.
But what hurts more is the job losses for people without a lot of high-tech skills, said Carroll, who already is asking Newberry County and the state to help them sell the building and find a new manufacturer.
The Renfro plant came to Whitmire's rescue about two decades ago, staying open after the other big mill in the town closed.
Layoffs since Nov. 7
At least six South Carolina manufacturing plants have announced in the past month they are closing for good or temporarily laying off employees, affecting nearly 2,000 workers. Here's a brief summary:
Nov. 7: Chester telephone cable maker Superior Essex announced it will close by March 31. 200 workers to lose jobs.
Nov. 10: Vought Aircraft in Charleston announces it is closing for at least two months. 400 workers laid off.
Nov. 19: Display cabinet and fixture maker Leggett & Platt in North Charleston will close by end of February. 110 workers to lose jobs.
Dec. 2: ArcelorMittal Steel mill in Georgetown will shut down until at least Jan. 12. 300 workers laid off.
Dec. 2: Shaw Industries Group will close carpet fiber plant in Anderson County in January. 170 workers to lose jobs.
Dec. 3: Sock maker Renfro announced it will close by Jan. 30. 570 workers to lose jobs.
The Associated Press