Sometimes it seems as though Graniteville is cursed.
It's been almost a year-and-a-half since nine people were killed and scores more injured in the wake of the Norfolk Southern train wreck that spilled tons of deadly chlorine. The full extent of illnesses in the Aiken County community is still not known, and now residents just learned of the latest casualty - up to 2,000 jobs lost in the area by late July because of an expected shutdown of Avondale Mills.
To be sure, hope springs eternal. There is still a slim chance that the Monroe, Ga.-based company that employs 4,000 textile workers at its 18 plants in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama can sell enough of its operations to save some, if not all, of those jobs. For now, however, the smartest thing for Graniteville folks to do is pray for the best and prepare for the worst.
The immediate cause of Avondale's shutdown, say company officials, was the after-effects of the chlorine spill that, over weeks and months, ate into much of the delicate machinery and electrical wiring of the Graniteville facilities, causing extensive damages.
But the truth is, those problems likely could have been overcome were it not for ongoing unfair competition from Asian countries, especially China, that was eating away like chlorine gas at U.S. textile and manufacturing industries long before last year's spill.
Indeed, even without the chlorine catastrophe, or a change in U.S. trade policy, Avondale, like so many other American manufacturers, was endangered by cheap foreign labor, Chinese government subsidies to state-run businesses and Beijing's blatantly unfair currency manipulations. The chlorine spill simply accelerated the process.
Avondale, of course, has been the Graniteville area's largest employer, and its closure will kick the job toll higher than the 2,000 jobs lost at its seven area facilities. Also affected will be satellite businesses spawned by the mill - eateries, grocery and convenience stores, dry cleaners, professional services such as doctors, lawyers, insurance agents and more.
There is simply no way to overestimate the economic reverberations that Avondale's shutdown will produce, not only in Graniteville but throughout the CSRA. Economic developers and job-training organizations in both the public and private sectors will have their hands full for a long time trying to find and develop new jobs and get Graniteville back on its feet. It won't be easy. Most of the workers don't know anything but textile work.
Avondale Mills' demise will also take a historic toll. It may be the oldest textile mill in the South, founded in 1845 as the Graniteville Co. by William Gregg. Before the company was acquired 10 years ago by Avondale, it survived the War Between the States, the Great Depression and two world wars.
What it couldn't survive is a destructive and foolhardy U.S. trade policy that allows communist China and other Third World nations to run U.S. manufacturers out of business - all because elitist "free trade" economists believe that in this era of high technology, manufacturing isn't necessary for advanced economies.
They're tragically mistaken.