Loom Is Now Fruitless

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The Loom is now Fruitless

By Timothy Collins

When you hear about a state cutting a deal with a firm to create jobs, take it with a grain of salt. In fact, take it with lots of salt.
So it goes for Jamestown, KY, and Fruit of the Loom, which closed its plant there at the end of last year; 600 workers lost their jobs. Fruit of the Loom, once known as Union Underwear, had been in Kentucky since the 1930s, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. The Jamestown facility, in Russell County, opened in 1981, and by 1990, had 3,200 workers. That all changed before too long as the textile industry began to downsize its Kentucky operations to, well, let’s put it frankly, shift jobs overseas. Jamestown finally fell to the globalization trend last year. It was the last Fruit of the Loom plant in the state.
The city, which benefited somewhat from the plant for about 25 years, is left to ponder a partially-paid-for water plant upgraded for the firm, a factory building with back taxes, and a lot of unemployed workers who are no longer paying taxes. Jamestown is hurting.
When thinking about paying a company to locate in a place and become the dominant employer, few think about what happens if it decides to move on.
Oh. And the salt part: Besides the loss of workers’ “sal[t]aries,” the company, after a protracted battle, received permission to dump its salt-laden dye wastewater into nearby Lake Cumberland in 1993. The impact of this waste is unclear—Lake Cumberland does have issues with mercury—but the decision to allow the pipeline was a risk to what was at one time described as one of the best bass fishing lakes in the upper South. Jobs clearly trumped the environment, and Kentucky’s Department of Natural Resources gets a bad mark for failing to preserve the state’s water from additional pollution.
If nothing else, the loss of Fruit of the Loom demonstrates how chancy economic development incentives can be for communities. My new book—Selling the State: Economic Development Policy in Kentucky— takes a look at how the Commonwealth’s economic development policy evolved. It is available for free from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University.
Bushnell, IL
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