Former Springs employees try to move on, find new jobs

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By Jesef Williams

Tammy Roberts, who worked nearly 30 years at Springs' Grace Complex, never thought she'd see the day when she had to look for another job.

She loved her role as an administrative clerk and thought her job would be around long after she retired. But for Roberts and hundreds of others, that's not the case.

Springs Global, which has been phasing out jobs for years, announced this summer that it was shutting down the Grace Finishing and Grace Fabrication operations in Lancaster and the H.W. Close plant in Fort Lawn and relocating to Brazil.

The move affected 540 people in Lancaster and 210 at Fort Lawn.

It was the latest in a long string of job cuts in this area where Springs was born in the late 1800s. It, however, was arguably the most historically significant cut, as it meant the end of a 120-year tradition of Springs manufacturing textiles in this region.

Now the company no longer makes textiles in South Carolina, and a lot of people in the area are looking for work.

Roberts, 48, wants to find something clerical, but doesn't like the idea of driving a long distance every day to work. Roberts, who lives in northern Kershaw County, said her preference would be to work in either her home county or Lancaster County.

Roberts said the job hunt so far hasn't been as successful as she would like, but she's optimistic about something coming up. She has yet to hear back from the four jobs for which she applied.

"It's just kind of frustrating to find something in this location," said Roberts, whose last day working at Grace was Oct. 31. "I really don't want to have to drive to Charlotte or Columbia to find work."

Helping the transition

In September, the Employment Security Commission opened a satellite office in the Grace Complex, where former Springs employees can work on resumes, search for jobs and hone skills needed in today's workforce climate.

Since its opening, about 800 people have visited the center.

Clinton Harris comes just about every day to work on his typing and math skills – two areas he realized he must improve to make himself a stronger job candidate.

The 54-year-old Heath Springs resident had worked at the Grace Complex for 37 years as a heavy equipment operator. He was laid off in late August and has been looking for work ever since.

"We have to adjust to the change," Harris said Monday morning while working on a computer skills program called Key Train. "You do need the training to get a better job."

Harris isn't limiting his search to the local area and said he has no problem relocating out of state, if necessary.

"I may have to pack up and go," said Harris, who's lived his whole life in Heath Springs. "It might be time for something different. Sometimes change is good."

Transition center manager Angie Hunter, who's a program assistant for the Employment Security Commission, said the center will remain open indefinitely. It's open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"I want this to be as comfortable as possible," Hunter said. "Springs allowed us to come here to soften the blow. This is like a death. As long as we're needed, we'll be here. I want more people to know about it."

Effect on unemployment

With Springs closing, the local unemployment figures probably won't get better anytime soon.

In October, the unemployment rate in Lancaster County was 9.9 percent, the fifth-highest in the state. In Chester County, it was 10.7 percent, the second-highest unemployment rate in the state.

Of the people who've lost their jobs this year in Lancaster County, the majority have been Springs workers, said Lynda Burke, the Lancaster director for the Employment Security Commission.

Overall, Lancaster County has more people who have lost trade-related jobs than any other county in South Carolina this year, Burke said.

Roberts said she and her coworkers are aware of such economic trends, but couldn't image the day when their jobs would be gone.

"You kept hearing rumors about textiles being in trouble," Roberts said. "You just hoped we would make it because we were strong for so long."

Contact Jesef Williams

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