The dull roar Wiregrass residents heard Tuesday may have been distant thunder accompanying storm clouds that rolled through the area off and on all day, but it’s more likely to have been cheers of glee from Abbeville, where local and state government and business officials celebrated the grand opening of Abbeville Fiber.
Anyone who’s traveled north on U.S. 431 over the last decade has surely noticed the sprawling complex at Abbeville that once housed West Point-Pepperill. The building has been idle since the domestic needles trade unraveled, eliminating more than 1,000 jobs. The silent structure was more than a reminder of the loss; it could have even been considered a boondoggle, because it’s not easy to find a tenant for a building with a half-million square feet of space.
The structure is active again, but that’s not what’s remarkable. Instead, how it found new use is a marvel of innovative thinking and willingness of people in different sectors to do what is necessary to launch a business to buoy a local economy.
Abbeville Fiber is an initiative of Great Southern Wood Preserving, Jimmy Rane’s Abbeville lumber company known far and wide as Yellawood. Rane drew on the expertise of people in the industry to retrofit the former sewing operation into a wood processing facility, and industrial recruiters and government officials adapted bureaucracy to enable a regional approach to bringing the vision to fruition.
That in itself is something to Yellabout. Congratulations to Abbeville Fiber, Great Southern, local officials and the men and women who will keep this new initiative in motion today and in the future.