Mount Vernon Mills plant in Alto closing in 60 days

  • Mount Vernon Mills in Alto employs nearly 600 people.
    Mount Vernon Mills in Alto employs nearly 600 people.

   The employees of Mount Vernon Mills textile plant in Alto were informed Thursday that the facility will close in 60 days, terminating the jobs of nearly 600 employees.

   Ned Cochrane, corporate secretary for Mount Vernon Mills, said the products that are made in Alto will be consolidated into the operation at their plant in Trion.

   “It’s a strategic move on our part to make sure we around for the long term,” Cochrane said Friday. “We are doing some consolidation as some styles we used to make have become unprofitable so that we as a company can be profitable.”

   The plant has been in operation under multiple companies for more than 50 years.

   “We never like to hear of long-term, large employers like that closing, but the Chamber along with the Georgia Department of Labor and the Habersham Partnership for Growth will work very closely with those displaced by the layoffs to help find new jobs,” said Mary Beth Horton, President of the Habersham County Chamber of Commerce.

   “Although Mount Vernon Mills is not located in Habersham County I am sure many of their workers are residents of Habersham County,” Habersham County Manager Phil Sutton said. “Any time there is a significant layoff in a local industry, our hearts go out to the employees that are thrust on to the labor market to look for new jobs. On the positive side this is the best labor market we have had in recent history with low unemployment and the availability of many good employment opportunities. We hope everyone that needs to relocate from Mount Vernon Mills will be successful in finding new employment quickly.”

   Mount Vernon Mills traces its origin to the Jones Falls area in what is now Baltimore, Maryland.  Several flour or grist mills were built there around 1810, and by the 1830s, many of the mills were being converted into cotton duck manufacturing operations, according to the company’s web site.

   One such mill, when it was converted in 1847, was named “Mount Vernon Mill No. 1,” the history reads. This mill, together with several others in the area, would soon become the Mount Vernon Company, a leading maker of quality cotton duck cloth for sails for clipper ships and canvas cloth for tents.

   The company got an early boost by making uniforms and tents for both sides in the Civil War.

   The company grew throughout the first half of the 20th Century, and the name was changed to Mount Vernon Mills, Inc. in 1956. By the 1960s, the product line had expanded to include such items as dryer felts used by paper manufacturers, fabrics for industrial and commercial conveyor belts, heavyweight apparel fabrics, and yarn for upholstery fabrics.

   The company shifted southward in the 1960s and 1970s, moving its corporate headquarters to Greenville, S.C.

   Meanwhile in the mid-1960s, Riegel Textile Corporation was looking for a place to put a new plant.

   John Foster was president of the Habersham County Chamber of Commerce at the time that Riegel showed interest in coming here, and the county was making a big push at the time for economic development.

   “We said we would give them whatever they wanted to come here,” Foster recalled. “They wanted a bridge over the railroad because there was too much traffic to be crossing the tracks all the time. We went to Jim Gillis of the Department of Transportation and he told me they did not have the funding for that. So I went to see Gov. Carl Sanders, who was a personal friend, and he said he would make it happen. I explained that Gillis told us no and that I did not want to cause a conflict, but Carl said ‘That’s OK, he just hasn’t had it explained to him yet.’

   “It was a real shot in the arm economically for both counties,” Foster added. “We really wanted to get an industry here and we succeeded.”

   Mount Vernon Mills bought Riegel out in 1985, quadrupling the company’s sales, and has been running the plant in Alto ever since. Including the plant in Trion, the company operates 14 other facilities throughout the Southeast, including seven locations in South Carolina.

   On its web site, Mount Vernon claims it “has faced many challenges in its history, with the pricing pressures from increasing imports in recent years being among the toughest. In addition, Mount Vernon continues its push toward niche, value-added products that use our technology and experience. For example, the company is providing state-of-the-art fabrics for military apparel, plus making flame resistant fabrics for industrial apparel. And, to help diversify beyond traditional textile markets, the company has made several acquisitions in its chemical processing businesses.”