Officials Move Quickly to Help Gulistan Workers
BY TED M. NATT JR.
Randy Ring started working for Gulistan Carpet after graduating from Union Pines High School in 1973, so he was caught off guard when the company let him go late last year.
"I knew business was bad, but it was still pretty much of a shock," Ring said Friday. "At 57 years old, I wasn't quite prepared to retire. I lost insurance benefits and everything else the day I left."
Ring was one of 44 employees whose job was eliminated Nov. 30, a precursor to last week's news that Gulistan is closing its operations in Aberdeen and Wagram, resulting in the loss of nearly 400 jobs.
"My hope was that my round of layoffs would save the company, but apparently not," he said.
Ring said he is collecting unemployment while looking for a job.
"I'm putting in applications," he said. "There are probably jobs out there that I would enjoy, but starting a new career at my age is not likely. I expect it to be tough."
Gulistan employees learned in a letter sent Dec. 28 that the company was "in the process of permanently winding down operations" at its facilities on N.C. 5 in Aberdeen and on Airbase Road in Wagram "beginning immediately and continuing over the course of the approximately the next four months."
The first round of layoffs was scheduled for Friday, but company officials delayed it for at least one week, according to Gene Norton, manager of the N.C. Division of Employment Security (DES) office in Aberdeen.
"It's all based on production," Norton said. "They're trying to get as much product out to fill the orders they have."
Messages left Thursday and Friday for representatives of Gulistan were not returned.
Norton and his staff were planning Friday for a two-day Rapid Response Visit to the plant later this week.
"This is a dynamic situation where there are going to be day-to-day changes," Norton said. "We'll be meeting with employees and providing them with information on the employment services available in Moore County. Our goal is to be proactive and get these people back to work as soon as possible."
Norton said DES personnel will also discuss with employees how to file for unemployment benefits, how to update their resume, how to manage their personal finances now that they're unemployed, and retraining opportunities at Sandhills Community College, among other things.
"It's just a matter of getting them all the information available on programs in the county that can help them," he said. "We want them to understand that the best solution to the problem is to go back to work quickly."
Norton said DES conducted a similar visit to American Growler in Robbins last October when the plant there closed, putting about 50 people out of work. The company built vehicles for the U.S. military.
"I've done tons of them around the state in the past 30 years," he said. "I just hate that all this is happening right after Christmas. Hopefully, we can set some of these people up with job interviews immediately."
The letter indicated that Gulistan has made "substantial efforts" over the past few years to restructure its debts and its business and continue to operate or postpone the shutdown. Those efforts, the letter states, "have been unsuccessful to date."
The letter indicates that some company assets were sold through a private sale conducted by Bank of America, and that Gulistan intends to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the "orderly sale of the remaining assets."
Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress, the county's economic development agency, said Friday that he is "cautiously optimistic" that a buyer can be found.
"But it's going to take a lot of help from the state," Corso said.
Corso and Patrick Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce, also plan to meet with middle and upper managers at Gulistan about potentially becoming entrepreneurs.
"It doesn't have to be about textiles," Coughlin said. "Maybe they want to open a coffee shop. If some of them want to run their own business, let's help them."
Meanwhile, the owners of Aberdeen Carpet & Flooring feel fortunate to have an alternative location to relocate their business from the Gulistan campus. Blue McCaskill and Jimmy Frye own the building on N.C. 5 that is home to FiFi's Fine Resale, and has 8,000 square feet available.
"There's a slight possibility that someone might purchase the plant, but I think that's a very slim chance," McCaskill said. "We're trying to get relocated if we have to. We want to keep our same phone number and things like that."
McCaskill said the company has built "quite a customer base" since opening in 1975.
"We've got a lot of loyal customers," he said. "Hopefully, those people will stay with us after the move."
McCaskill said he was taken aback by last week's news.
"It was a real shocker," he said. "We were completely surprised. It's been a real privilege to work with the plant. They've been real good to us. It's been a good partnership "
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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