More than 500 Panhandle families are breathing a sigh of relief. At this time, there are no announced plans to close the WestPoint Home manufacturing plant in Chipley.
WestPoint has been a major economic force in Chipley for nearly 30-years. Word of the plant closings' in the Wiregrass has folks in Washington County feeling very uneasy.
In the late 1970's, WestPoint opened its Chipley manufacturing plant, which produced pillows and bedding material. At one point, it employed more than 800 people from across the tri-states'. Today, that number is slightly over 500.
Washington County Chamber of Commerce officials say it's a tragedy about the plants in Abbeville, Opelika and Marianna.
Ted Everett with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce said, "The globalization has made mercantile in an uneasy position. But we here in Washington County will work and do what we can to keep the jobs here."
Late Chipley Mayor, Tommy McDonald, was instrumental in getting WestPoint to locate in Chipley. His son, Tommy McDonald Jr., now a councilman, will work on keeping it open. "If there WestPoint Homes is as important as it is here, I know it's a tremendous blow for the folks in Abbeville."
A WestPoint Stevens Outlet Center is located in Chipley. Businesses are worried that the plant might close.
Blossoms Owner Kirby Holt says, "For a business like mine that depends on the economic spin-off of WestPoint, losing it would be a tremendous financial loss. It would keep some folks from coming here. It would be felt."
Folks in Chipley and the surrounding Panhandle communities are hoping they can weather out this recent series of plant closings in the area.
Several Panhandle officials blame the North American Free Trade Agreement approved by Congress in the 1990's for sending Wiregrass textile jobs overseas.