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State grant to help Lumpkin County market shuttered Mohawk plant
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State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, left, talks with Lumpkin County Commission Chairman Steve Gooch after Thurmond presented a grant for marketing the old Mohawk carpet factory. - photo by Harris Blackwood

DAHLONEGA — Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond presented Lumpkin County officials with a $25,000 grant to be used for marketing the Mohawk Industries carpet yarn plant, which was closed in June.

The plant, which opened in 1955, was the first industry in what was then a remote mountain town. It was known by locals as the "Pine Tree" plant, a reference to the thicket of loblolly pines that surrounds the 375,000-square-foot plant, which has nine acres of covered manufacturing space.

The brick structure has been placed on the market for $3.5 million. Bruce Abraham, executive director of the Lumpkin County Development Authority, said the state grant will be used for national advertising of the building and to hold a tour of the building for regional economic developers.

"This is a jobs creation grant," Thurmond said, whose agency has worked closely with Lumpkin County in helping to place the 375 workers who were idled by the plant closure earlier this year.

"One of the things I wanted to do was to look beyond the workers themselves and restore the economic vitality of the community in which the jobs were lost," Thurmond said.

The plant had three owners through the years. The first, Lees Carpets, was acquired by textile giant Burlington Industries, which fell on hard times in 2003.

Burlington, in bankruptcy, would be acquired by W.L. Ross & Co., which would spin off Lees Carpets in a $346 million deal to Mohawk.

Mohawk, which has felt the impact of the sluggish housing market, has closed a number of Georgia plants in the past year.

Abraham said the county is assisting Mohawk in marketing the plant in an effort to bring in new jobs.

"It’s a 50-year-old building, and it is still very solid," Abraham said. "The utilities and construction are still strong. It has low ceilings, which doesn’t lend itself to some manufacturing."

Thurmond said the Mohawk closing is symptomatic of the current situation in Georgia, which is likely to get worse before it gets better.

"All the economists I respect are saying that unemployment is going to continue to rise," Thurmond said, adding that jobless forecasts of 8 to 8.5 percent have been made for mid-2009.

The labor commissioner said some of Georgia’s unemployed are running out of benefits, which are paid for a maximum of 26 weeks.

"About 10,000 claimants exhausted their benefits last month," Thurmond said. "Right now, Congress is looking at a possible extension."

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