Invista’s nylon division produced fiber for Stainmaster carpets.
The housing bust claimed another casualty. Invista, Waynesboro’s largest employer, decided to idle its local nylon operations temporarily. Closure of the nylon section, which produces fiber for Stainmaster carpets, is forcing the company to lay off 210 employees and at least 132 contract workers.
The Waynesboro manufacturing plant, established by DuPont in 1929 and purchased by Invista in 2004, also produces Lycra, a fiber used in hosiery, socks and sportswear. Demand for that material remains high, according to Invista spokeswoman Jodie Stutzman, who said that apparel-fiber manufacturing lines would not be affected.
Officials for Invista — a Wichita-based subsidiary of privately held Koch Industries Inc. — attribute their decision to close nylon operations to deteriorating market conditions and reduced consumer demand. Since 2005, carpet sales are down 25 percent across the industry. As a result, Invista is also laying off workers at its Wilmington, Del., facility and closing a plant in Canada.
“If people aren’t building houses, they can’t put carpet in them,” says Benjamin Carter, president and CEO of the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s tough on the employees, but this was a business decision and it had to be made so the organization as a whole can survive.”
All 632 workers employed at the plant received layoff notices under the 1989 Worker Adjustment and Retraining (WARN) Act, which requires employers to advise employees of mass layoffs at least 60 days in advance. Stutzman says the step was required because the company is still in the process of identifying which employees will be laid off.
The number of employees targeted for layoffs represents 12 percent of Waynesboro’s manufacturing work force. In October, Waynesboro’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, below the national average of more than 6 percent.
Carter, who believes the Invista plant will go back into nylon production once the housing market rebounds, says the regional economy is holding its own despite the layoffs. “It’s unfortunate that the company had to do this and unfortunate for those affected, but it’s not as devastating to the [Shenandoah] Valley as some people might think,” he said. “The economy here is much, much more diverse than it used to be, and so while we’ve had a bit of a slowdown, it’s not nearly as bad as in other places.”