Opinion: More good news from Easley — for others

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley managed to dredge up a bit of painful Henderson history this week with another one of his job-creation announcements.

Through the state Commerce Department, the governor announced Wednesday that a former Harriet & Henderson Yarns plant in Clarkton is reopening with a $25 million investment from a partnership named Cedartown Manufacturing.

The Bladen County town will gain 134 textile jobs within three years from the plant’s rebirth, made possible through a $175,000 grant from the governor’s One North Carolina Fund. The jobs will pay an average of more than $29,000 per year.

Reading the announcement, we couldn’t help thinking back to the photo of Easley at the Universal Tobacco plant groundbreaking in Nash County in 2002 and his celebration of the jobs created, hundreds of which came from the shuttered J.P. Taylor plant in Henderson. Now Easley’s rejoicing at our lost textile jobs popping up elsewhere in North Carolina.

To be fair, though, those Harriet & Henderson jobs were at least as important to Bladen County as our Harriet & Henderson jobs were in Vance County.

What has us scratching our heads is the payment to Cedartown Manufacturing. It’s a partnership between Sanford-based Frontier Spinning Mills and Canadian apparel maker Gildan Activewear (not Gidlan, as the announcement says).

If those names are ringing any bells, it’s because Frontier Spinning and Gildan joined forces in 2003 to buy the last two operational Harriet & Henderson plants for $8.75 million. The prize in the package was the facility in Cedartown, Ga., which gave the partnership its name and never missed a minute of manufacturing.

The other facility was the Bladen Plant in Clarkton, not far from another plant Harriet & Henderson had already closed. Our Bladen County geography is shaky, but it appears that the new operation will be in the plant Frontier did not buy in 2003, known as the Clarkton Plant.

Despite Frontier’s stated hope to run both plants it bought, the partnership immediately shut down the Bladen Plant after closing the purchase Oct. 22, 2003. Frontier’s chief executive, George Perkins Jr., said the company didn’t have enough orders to justify keeping the plant running.

There were suspicions at the time that Frontier and Gildan included the Bladen Plant in their bid as a poison pill to drive off rival bidders in bankruptcy court. (A military-related manufacturer moved into the plant in May 2004, so Frontier didn’t have it long.)

“Company officials said they chose to open the Clarkton facility because of the incentives offered by the state to locate a facility in that area along with the available trained workforce,” this week’s state news release reads. There’s no mention that the same company officials shut a sister plant down, or that they eliminated 130 jobs in the process, roughly the same number they’ll be creating the next three years.

So, less than 18 months later, Frontier and Gildan are putting their connections to use and getting a nice payoff for their trouble, with undisclosed contributions from the Department of Commerce, the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, Bladen County, Clarkton, North Carolina’s Southeast Partnership and Progress Energy to supplement the $175,000 grant.

Two giant corporations — the nation’s No. 2 cotton spinner and one of North America’s largest manufacturers of outerwear — make a business decision to close a textile plant for lack of orders, then make a business decision to reopen a nearby facility (allowing Gildan to shut down two Canadian plants and idle 285 workers), and the state pays them a nice public bribe for their trouble.

That’s economic development in 2005.