Welcome, Vidalia Denim! Hundreds turn out for event

Published 10:30 am Thursday, August 16, 2018

VIDALIA — More than 300 people turned out Tuesday to the Vidalia Conference & Convention Center to welcome Vidalia Denim Mills.

Mayors and aldermen of Natchez and Vidalia, economic development officials, community business representatives and residents looking for work were all a part of the crowd gathered to welcome the newest industry to the Miss-Lou.

Last month Vidalia Denim was announced as the industrial prospect known as Project Blue that Miss-Lou economic leaders had been courting for the past two years.

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Vidalia Denim purchased the 900,000 square-foot former Fruit of the Loom facility from the Town of Vidalia. The company plans to transform the building into a cotton mill that will take raw cotton and turn it into denim fabric to be sold to blue jeans manufacturers.

The project expects to have a $9 million payroll and to employ 300 people.

At Tuesday’s event, Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft on behalf of the board of aldermen thanked town employees and citizens for their efforts in helping create the industrial opportunity and for being on hand Tuesday to help celebrate.

“I see clearly how we have arrived at this point,” Craft said. “This was not an individual effort but a team effort.”

He went on to liken the industrial recruitment process to an athletic team playing a game with many players and coaches, spectators and referees working together to make the game happen and Craft said he believes the same is true in the game of life.

“All are equally important because we all receive or give something to the game,” he said. “We can set an example here today to show that we need to embrace each other, win or lose, to progress. Not to fight but to work for the common good of our town, our states. . . . We’re in the presence of many, many influential and powerful people today that I feel believe this same way. To each of our guests, we thank you for your service and your work. Thank you for believing in Vidalia.”

On the podium with Craft were Anne Hazlett, assistant to the secretary for rural development at the United States Department of Agriculture; Dr. Carrie Castille Louisiana state director of the USDA’s rural development; Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham; Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain; Michael Ricks; U.S. Sen. Dr. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Dan Feibus, CEO of Vidalia Denim Mills; Jack Stephens, chairman of the board of Natchez Inc.; Louisiana State Rep., Andy Anders, D-Vidalia; and Roian Atwood, director of sustainability for Wrangler jeans.

Feibus thanked everyone for their efforts in bringing the Vidalia Denim project to Vidalia.
“This is a really interesting project,” Feibus said. “We’re really pleased to be here in this community.”

After thanking many people and nanciers involved in the project, Feibus introduced Atwood, who was decked out in Wrangler blue jeans and a red, white and blue Wrangler shirt.

“What’s really important, and one of the reasons we are here, is to celebrate this moment in time,” Atwood said. “This is a really important landmark in textile history in the United States and it is not often you can say we have a new American denim mill coming online. That’s quite rare.”

Atwood said the United States experienced a mass exodus of the textile industry from 1970 to 1994, losing 350 mills throughout the Southeast. “It’s a bright sunny day for the entire industry,” Atwood said of Tuesday’s announcement.

Abraham said he grew up in Lake Providence, Louisiana, and spent time as an adult working as a veterinarian and physician in the Mississippi Delta.

“When Vidalia Denim and Syrah Technology come to these cities, what they are going to find, and what they already know, is a community that wraps their arms around them but more importantly, they are going to find workers who show up on time and do the job and do it again day after day after day. These are Americans we are proud of.”

Hazlette said she has deep respect for Louisiana and a commitment to building rural prosperity.

“We celebrate the incredible opportunity that we have for the Vidalia community,” Hazlette said, “Louisiana and Mississippi agriculture and the many families that will benefit from the wages that will be created by this business asset.”

The speeches and thank you’s lasted approximately 45 minutes and then people retreated to a side room to mingle and enjoy refreshments. Vidalia Denim has said phase one is working on the facility, and they hope to start hiring within the next nine months.

Lee Staggs, who works for the Vidalia Street Department, said he turned out for Tuesday’s event to support the project.

“We need jobs here,” Staggs said and noted that people had been showing up at the convention center earlier in the day hoping to be able to apply for a job. “A lot of people thought this was a job fair. I think it is a good, done deal. Let’s make some denim.”

This article was originally published by The Natchez Democrat on Aug. 15.