Last December, there was still hope that the Johnston Textiles plant in Phenix City might be saved by a new owner or an investor with cash to spare.
Such is not the case, however, with the 630,000-square-foot manufacturing plant at 300 Colin Powell Parkway quietly shutting down in recent weeks and the equipment inside now being auctioned off online or sold to interested textile company buyers elsewhere.
“The building is for sale and we are liquidating,” were the words of Johnston Textiles cost manager Joe Arnold, passed along Tuesday by an accounting department employee.
Those two, who are working to finish up the financial books, as well as a maintenance worker, were the only staffers remaining at the plant this week. The remaining 140 or so were laid off after the company’s filing in December with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, a 60-day notice required under federal law to give those impacted fair warning of their job losses.
“We’re working on a going concern sale,” Baker Smith, Johnston Textile’s chief operating officer, told the Ledger-Enquirer when the state filing was made. “We’ve got a highly motivated buyer. Don’t know whether they’re going to purchase it or not. They may not. But we felt an obligation to let the employees know the status, and the way you do that is in the form of a WARN notice.”
The only sales now being discussed are for the equipment inside the plant and the property itself, which is situated on 81 acres of land and now is on the market for $3.9 million.
San Francisco-based liquidation company Rabin is spearheading the overall auction process, with an online bidding effort that should close by Thursday morning, said marketing manager Grace Tsai. However, Michael Diamond, president of York, S.C.-based Republic Textile Equipment Co., said his firm his handling much of the heavier and automated equipment that will be liquidated to other textile manufacturers.
That includes items such as warpers, weavers and looms, as well as dobby, dyeing and material inspection machines. Departments inside the plant included preparation, weaving, dyeing and finishing.
“We sell a lot of it domestically,” Diamond said of his overall business. “Some has gone overseas. But, for the most part, a lot of it is sold here locally. There’s some business around here. There’s some people that need some of this equipment.”
A textile industry article on the website of The Pew Charitable Trust points out 200,000 textile jobs have been lost nationwide since 2004, with roughly 233,000 left in 2012.
That decline was due to both automation and the movement of manufacturing overseas where operating costs, including labor, are cheaper. Those employment numbers were far off the textile sector’s apparent peak of 1.3 million jobs in 1948, according to The Pew Charitable Trust article.
The Chattahoochee Valley area has mirrored that meltdown with several thousand textile job losses over the last 15 years. That includes plant closures by Pillowtex, Galey & Lord, WestPoint Stevens and Johnston Industries itself.
More recently, Johnston Industries had been operating as Johnston Fabrics and Finishing, with it weaving, dyeing and finishing material for the hospitality, industrial and technical markets.
But the company’s decline has been steady over many years. It was in late 2010 that it announced it was shutting down a weaving factory in the small south Alabama town of Opp, west of Dothan, relocating 120 jobs to the Phenix City facility. That was expected to push the company’s local staffing to about 220 by the summer of 2011.
Prior to that, however, the manufacturer already had been consolidating its operations. In 2008, it moved its finishing operation and about 40 jobs from the Shawmut Mill in Valley, Ala., to Phenix City, where Johnston had been operating since 1972, with the local plant perhaps best remembered by the name Southern Phenix Textiles.
The company was known as Johnston Industries entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2003, exiting the court before the end of that year as Johnston Textiles, with reportedly 480 employees in Phenix City and roughly 1,500 overall. Since then, the plant closures and downsizing have steadily cut into its work force.
What remains today is picking up the pieces and selling the property. Colliers International broker Tripp Alexander, based out of that real-estate firm’s office in Birmingham, Ala., is already showing the industrial site, which includes rail access if a former spur is rebuilt and activated.
“We’ve had investor interest and we’ve had user interest,” Alexander said of the 630,000-square-foot facility. “It’s a lot of building under roof and it’s a great opportunity for somebody who needs a lot of roof.”
The broker said warehouse storage and distribution would be a solid fit for the property, although manufacturing is still a possibility, with the textile operation’s “phenomenal” power capacity.
Alexander said his company has canvassed major employers in Russell and Lee counties in Alabama, and Muscogee in Georgia, to let them know about the potential of the site. That includes its relatively high ceilings, plentiful dock doors, 100-percent sprinkler system and the fact that about 40 percent of its roof was replaced recently.
“Regionally, we’re just trying to make sure it’s in front of folks who are in the businesses that could find use for it,” said the broker, who has hopes to not only earn a commission from the property’s sale, but to bring it back to life.
“You hate it anytime an industry like this closes down, especially looking back and it was one of the largest employers in the county for a long, long time,” he said. “But we’re hopeful we can find somebody to get it back up to high employment, somebody who can produce a lot of jobs and capital investment.”