Joseph Eliott Jr., above, lost his job at International Paper but has since been hired at the shipyard.
Daily Press file photo (color)More than 1,000 people lost their jobs when International Paper closed its mill near Franklin.
On April 30, George F. Hasty made the long walk off the grounds of International Paper's Isle of Wight paper mill for the last time.
Like more than 1,000 others, Hasty, 45, lost his job as the last paper machines inside the hulking complex on the edge of Franklin ground to a halt - another victim of the deep economic recession that has claimed millions of U.S. jobs since late 2008.
Hasty, who goes by the nickname "Frankie," was a 17-year veteran of the paper mill who worked as a color engineer. His co-workers, he said, were like family.
"No one wanted to see that mill close," he said. "But this opened up some new opportunities for people, too."
Just days before Hasty left his job at International Paper, he was offered a job as a machinist at Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Newport News shipyard.
Hasty is one of 133 former IP workers the shipyard hired in the wake of the mill closing. Ninety-four of those workers have started their jobs. The remaining 39 will begin in the coming months.
"From Northrop Grumman's perspective, this was an opportunity to get good, quality people who, through no fault of their own, are losing jobs," said George Decker, the shipyard's staffing director. "As a business, you don't like to see another business fail. But we're always on the lookout for good people, and IP had a wealth of them."
When International Paper announced in October 2009 that it would shutter the mill by April, taking with it about 1,100 jobs, the hamlet of Franklin was devastated. People wondered what the loss would mean to their town, their small businesses, their neighbors.
Workers fretted about where their next paycheck would come from and how they would feed their families.
But the region's manufacturers seized on the opportunity - not only to add experienced, proven workers to their staffs, but also to cash in on the goodwill of cushioning Franklin from the blow.
Working with state and local workforce development agencies, Northrop took part in two job fairs and held four informational meetings for displaced workers.
"We were dealing with a lot of experienced folks who hadn't looked for jobs in more than 30 years," Decker said. "They needed a lot of coaching, but they were very enthusiastic, very mature and had a very high morale. It was a very positive experience."
The Newport News shipyard, which Decker said receives between 8,000 and 10,000 electronic job applications a month, was so impressed by the quality of the IP workers that it set up a separate database to capture their applications to be sure each one was reviewed.
After the process, the yard offered jobs to more than 140 mill workers - more than 10 percent of all those who lost jobs as part of the closure.
Northrop hired and trained former IP employees as welders, pipe fitters, maintenance workers, riggers, machine shop workers and planners.
"We've hired in spates before," Decker said. "But in my 30 years here, I can't remember anything of this size."
Hasty, who said Decker offered to stay after the sessions as long as workers still had questions, said he admires Northrop for "looking after us and catering to us."
For some, the transition wasn't easy.
Joseph Eliott Jr., of Chesapeake, was out of work for nearly six months before the yard offered him a job as a rigger.
Eliott, 48, worked for 11 years at IP's Chesapeake box-manufacturing plant, which closed in June 2009.
"I drew unemployment for almost six months, and I felt guilty about the whole thing," Eliott said. "My wife would roll out of bed every morning to go to work, and I didn't know what to do with myself."
Finally, his brother-in-law, a 30-year yard veteran, urged him to apply to the shipyard.
"A month later, I got a call back and I had the job," he said. "It was a true blessing."
Suffolk resident Kevin Howell spent 15 years at the Franklin mill, commuting about 10 minutes each day to and from his job as an assistant paper machine operator.
His drive to Newport News takes about 45 minutes. But he's not complaining.
"Sometimes I miss the production side of the paper mill," said Howell, who's now a planner for the Virginia-class submarine-building program. "But this was an opportunity for me to learn something new - to take my life in a new direction."
Howell, a shipyard Apprentice School graduate from the Class of 1994, said he plans to further his education, perhaps with a business or an engineering degree with the help of Northrop.
"For me, bad news turned into something good," Howell said. "There are great opportunities here that I hope to take advantage of."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times