By Mary Ellen Klas and Kathleen McGrory Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
Sunday, December 8, 2013 3:16pm
For nearly three decades, this rural community in north central Florida was home to a bustling mill that was the principal employer for its 1,400
Then, in November 2011, the recession-induced collapse of the housing market forced Georgia-Pacific to close its plywood plant.
All 400 employees were sent scrambling to find work — weeks before the holidays. And the mill that once produced the sawdust-covered staples of the state’s housing market stood idle, cutting off the lifeblood of the local economy.
“The mill was a boost to the entire town — the schools, churches, local businesses,” said Pastor Joe Williams. “All of a sudden, all that disappeared.”
Now, after two years the mill stands shuttered. Many of its employees have found other jobs but at lower wages, and local community leaders, who had hoped to get help from the state, say they are on their own.
“We’ve tried to sell ourselves to [the state Department of Economic Opportunity],” said Hawthorne Mayor Matthew Surrency, but the effort has yielded little return.
The story of Hawthorne is not one Gov. Rick Scott talks about on his public relations roadshow as the state’s “jobs” governor. It is a tale of the tens of thousands of private sector jobs lost in Florida since Scott took office in January 2011. It is about once robust manufacturing jobs that were replaced by lower-wage service sector employment. And it is about the thousands of companies already here that received little help with tax breaks or other incentives.