Originally created 09/07/06

Graniteville mill reopens, restores 82 jobs



GRANITEVILLE - The speakers under a white tent had to raise their voices to be heard over the constant stream of trucks that rolled past Avondale Mills' former Woodhead Plant on Wednesday. Inside, workers wore ear plugs as bolts of fabric snaked their way through the busy machinery. No one seemed to mind the noise.

About 50 people were on hand for a formal announcement that the former plant, now known as Graniteville Specialty Fabrics, had reopened.

A group of South Carolina investors, including Weldon Wyatt, a local businessman who owns Sage Valley Golf Club, purchased the plant from Avondale Mills Inc. last month. Other members of the investment group are Sam Phillips, David Poole, Robert O. Collins and Miles Loadholt.

Mr. Wyatt declined to disclose the purchase price but said it was worth what he spent.

"The Woodhead plant was always profitable, so it made sense to us to try to help the community and try to save these jobs," Mr. Wyatt said.

He also said there will be more news out of Graniteville. He declined to discuss specifics, but he virtually confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in Aiken County, saying that he is interested in other Avondale plants and property in the area.

The actual restart of the former Woodhead plant Aug. 21 restored about 82 of the 100 jobs that were lost at the facility. Avondale's sale of the Townsend Plant to a North Carolina-based company in July saved 250 more jobs.

More than 1,600 people were put out of work when Avondale Mills shut down six Graniteville operations July 25.

Doug Johnson, manager of the Graniteville Specialty Fabric plant, said the new owners hope to rehire all of the Woodhead employees. He said one-fourth of the plant's production has been dedicated to new products and new markets.

"This will be the first of many steps to revitalize the Graniteville area," Mr. Johnson said.

Graniteville Specialty Fabrics produces five coating ranges designed to finish various fabrics for apparel and industrial uses. Major product lines include awnings, boat covers, outdoor furniture, tents and coated apparel.

The plant is expected to produce about 15 million yards of finished goods this year.

Ronnie Young, the Aiken County Council chairman who also worked at Avondale Mills, said the community's greatest fear was realized when the mills closed.

"We look forward to another 100 years of Graniteville Specialty Fabrics providing the world with its quality products," he said.

Even some of the mill workers who lost their jobs got a bit of bright news Wednesday.

The Avondale-Graniteville Transition Center One-Stop Plus opened its doors in Aiken to provide employment assistance.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.

ONE-STOP PLUS


WHERE: 1040 York St., Aiken


PHONE: (803) 648-0441


HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday