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Editorial: Can plant have a new life?

Fiber Industries’ decision in 1963 to build a manufacturing plant in Rowan County was huge news. The company produced polyester fiber, and the country needed a lot of it. Fiber Industries tripled the size of the plant before it even opened. At one time, the company employed 3,000 people at the Salisbury facility.

Now the gigantic plant that Fiber built may be headed for closure. Officials with DuraFiber Technologies announced Friday they were seeking a buyer, and they gave employees 60-day notice that their jobs would likely end in September. Workers at DuraFiber plants in Shelby and Winnsboro, S.C., got the same news.

By this time, WARN notices and closing plans are all too familiar to people in Rowan County. DuraFiber’s announcement was different in that it contained an “if.” DuraFiber will idle its Carolina factories “if a buyer is not identified” by Sept. 11, officials said. DuraFiber seemed to be leaving the door ajar.

Economic development officials for the city, county and state should vigorously explore that opening. Perhaps there’s a way to bring in new opportunities. At stake are 373 jobs and the continued use of a factory on more than 450 acres off U.S. 70, about six miles west of Salisbury. The spot was a prime location when Fiber chose it in the 1960s, and it still is desirable today.

Leaders of the North Carolina legislature have framed their agenda as a sure-fire way to boost the state’s economy — primarily by cutting corporate and personal income taxes. The voters of Rowan County have been loyal supporters of this conservative approach. However, whatever transformational power these tax cuts were supposed to have on job growth has yet to reach Rowan. In fact, virtually all the state’s rural counties have been left on the sidelines of the recovery and of former Gov. Pat McCrory’s so-called “Carolina Comeback.”

Things have changed at this site on U.S. 70 before. The former Fiber plant has also carried the brand of Hoescht Celanese, KOSA, Invista and Performance Fibers. There may be more. Former longtime employees gathered a year ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the plant’s 1966 opening. They had a lot to be proud of. In addition to their work producing tire yarn and staple fibers, they were leaders in United Way giving and other community causes. Thousands of Rowan residents worked at the plant some time in their lives — and thousands would like to again.

For many years, Fiber was the county’s largest taxpayer. A 1976 story in the Post said 10 companies accounted for 24 percent of county property tax revenues at the time. Sad to say, nearly every one of them is gone. Only Duke Energy still has a major presence. 

So it goes. Expecting the roster of local companies to stay the same would be unrealistic. Besides, there have been many additions: Freightliner, Magna Composites, Agility Fuel Systems, Gildan Yarns, Integro and others.

Still, Rowan is due for a turnaround, and saving the DuraFiber jobs — or replacing them very quickly — is essential.

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