Next step for Stion employees, Forrest County after company announces closure

Next step for Stion employees, Forrest County after company announces closure
Source: WDAM

FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Over 130 Pine Belt residents may be worried about a paycheck just two weeks before Christmas.

Last week, the Stion Corporation notified the state it would be closing its Hattiesburg plant on December 13, 2017, and laying off its 137 employees.

"Every operator feels terrible not knowing if  you're going to have a job before the holidays and two weeks before Christmas, you won't have a job at all," said a man who has worked with Stion for three years.

The gentleman did not want to release his identity, worried it could risk his current situation.

"We signed for our termination papers, meaning you don't really have a job," he told WDAM.  "They are telling us if you miss a day or you don't come in, you're fired. So we can't go look for a job, we have to keep coming in until December 13th."

Chad Newell, president of the Area Development Partnership, released this statement following the announcement of the closure.

"Our primary concern is for the employees and their families.  Given that our market was recently ranked No. 1 for job growth among Mississippi metro areas and 68th nationally, I am confident many of these employees will have sufficient opportunities close to home.  Our economic development team here at the Area Development Partnership (ADP) is already providing assistance to connect employees with expanding employers.  The ADP is also recruiting area employers to participate in the Governor's Job Fair slated for November 2nd from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. here at the Lake Terrace Convention Center.  We are working closely with the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) to proactively market the space currently occupied by Stion so that our citizens continue to have employment opportunities in this first-class industrial facility."

Not only does the closure put over 130 employees without a job just before the holidays, but also puts a question over money that was to be paid to Forrest County and the City of Hattiesburg.

Located in the Hattiesburg-Forrest County Industrial Park, the American solar panel manufacturer qualified for a fee in lieu of ad valorem taxes (FILA or FIL) agreement with both the city and county in 2013, but had not been able to make the required fee payments.

In May,  Hattiesburg City Council members and Forrest County supervisors reached an agreement with Stion Corporation to make monthly fee in lieu of tax payments.  According to the agreement, Stion was to make monthly payments of $75,000 to the Forrest County Tax Collector to be divided among the city, county and Hattiesburg Public School District to repay fee in lieu of tax money owed.

Under the agreement, Forrest County was to receive 35-percent, Hattiesburg 27-percent and the Hattiesburg Public School District 37-percent of the payment.

To date, Forrest County Board Attorney David Miller said Stion has made three payments under the agreement, for a total of $225,000.  $79,000 was paid to Forrest County, $61,000 to the city and $84,000 to the Hattiesburg Public School District.

Miller said the next step for the county could be to file a judgment for the money owed.

We have confirmed the Attorney General's Office is representing the Mississippi Development Authority.  According to the Associated Press, that is the action taken in previous issues between companies and the state.  The Stion Corporation  owes Mississippi the entire $74.8 million it borrowed.