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He was 53 and had worked there for 27 years.
"What am I going to do?" he said.
He said it as if he were thinking out loud more than asking a question.
The Lancaster News and the S.C. Employment Security Commission were sponsoring a job fair. The irony is the day before the job fair, Springs Global announced its closing of the Grace Complex, where he worked.
The announcement was no surprise because it was just another in a string of closings as the textile industry moved overseas. While it was no surprise, he was dealing with reality - jobless and over 50.
The only opening at the newspaper was for a press apprentice. He picked up an application and then the man - the epitome of a displaced worker - walked away.
We thought about him at the 52nd annual meeting of the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce. The guest speaker that night was Crandall Bowles, retired CEO of Springs Global.
About 300 people were at the Fairway Room to hear Bowles speak. They were curious. Most wanted to hear what she had to say about the textile conglomerate that housed, fed, educated and provided recreation outlets for its employees and their families for more than 100 years. They also wanted to hear about its demise.
The theme for the evening was Thanks for the Memories. It was bittersweet. Bowles shared some of the history of the plant that originated at the Fort Mill Manufacturing Co. 120 years ago. She shared stories about some of the humor prevalent in the Springs family.
She also shared numbers:
- In the 1980s, Springs Industries had 25,000 employees.
- In 1997 when Bowles became CEO, Springs had 17,000 employees in South Carolina and sales of $3 billion.
- In 2001, Springs went private and opened offices in China, Pakistan and India to compete globally.
- In 2003, Springs closed the Lancaster and Fort Mill plants.
- In 2006, the company merged with Coteminas in Brazil and changed name to Springs Global.
- In 2007, Springs closed the remaining manufacturing plants in the Palmetto state, Grace Complex and the H.W. Close plant in Fort Lawn.
The company that once had 25,000 employees worldwide had only 700 in the state.
Bowles said the decision to sell the company was was a sad time for her family.
"It wasn't really a decision - it was a necessity," she said. "There was no way to continue."
Former staff writer Barbara Bradley wrote in The Lancaster News publication, "Legacy of a Landmark," that Bowles father, H.W. "Bill" Close, gave some insight about the future of the textile industry in 1978. Close shared his prophetic message in The Charlotte News business article, "Imports, labor threaten industry."
Close took over the helm of Springs Industries in the late 1950s. During the following decades he modernized plants and built new ones. He turned Springs into a marketing-oriented company and built a sales and marketing office in New York. He died in 1983.
During the 1980s, the company changed its name to Springs Industries Inc. and expanded its product line. There were buyouts, mergers and downsizing.
The 1990s brought about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA backers said the deal would create new jobs, higher wages in Mexico with environmental cleanup and improved health along the border. Springs supported the deal.
Economists said in the long run that the free trade agreement was a good idea and the right thing to do.
"But NAFTA was enacted abruptly and apparently without real understanding," said Greydon Cruse, vice president of LDI Consulting in Charlotte in 2003.
Jobs went overseas - China, India and other parts of Southeast Asia. For Springs employees, their jobs went to Brazil.
To Bowles' credit, she and her family kept Springs running as long as they could. Even during the Depression Springs ran the mill (at least part time) to give workers an opportunity to make money.
In the early years, it was long hours in a hot environment for all ages - young and old. But over the years those conditions improved - for the worker and the business.
Eugene Mickle, who worked 40 years at the Lancaster Plant, summed it up well.
"It's (the closing of the mill or Lancaster Plant) going to be a mighty sad day," Mickle said. "But life goes on."
It does. And Springs still impacts our lives.
"Have you been to the University of South Carolina at Lancaster, gone to Springs Memorial Hospital, played golf at Lancaster Golf Club, gotten a loan at Founder's, a college education loan from the Springs Foundation or ever been to Springmaid Beach?" said Taylor Stephens, past chairman of the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce and speaker at the chamber event.
Those are just some of the examples of Springs benevolence. There are many more.
During the meeting, Rick Jiran, business relations manager for Duke Energy, presented Anne Springs Close the Citizenship and Service Award. Close is the daughter of Col. Elliott Springs and widow of H.W. "Bill" Close. The Duke-sponsored award is given to an organization, company or group of employees that has made a positive influence on the community. In the past 30 years, the Springs Close Foundation has contributed more than $22 million to Lancaster County.
Charles Bundy, former president of the Springs-Close Foundation, said Bowles was "very competent and energetic" and that the Close family made sure foundation money was spent on the most worthy causes.
"I've never seen a more conscientious group of people who could have taken on a different attitude if they wanted," Bundy said,
We are glad they didn't.
But it is a bittersweet situation. We cannot forget the plight of the displaced worker. Nor can we forget what Springs' philanthropy has meant to so many of us.
Like many other industries, the textile conglomerate fell victim to changing global economy. But the Springs roots run deep and its impact is evident. We are indebted to them. Commitment and compassion are its legacy.
For that we are grateful.