Bedford County paper mill celebrates 125 years of operation

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BIG ISLAND, Va. (WDBJ7) Along the James River in Big Island, paper products spin off large machines.

"It's a good place to work," said Todd Bryant, an employee who has worked at the Georgia Pacific Containerboard Mill for 34 years.

"I'm a local person and it's close to home," said Bryant. "I decided this is where I wanted to plant my roots."

"Usually, when you come you don't leave," said Brenda Shafer, who has been part of the mill's workforce for 39 years.

"It has been a good job," Shafer explained. "I've worked in all of the areas."

Shafer and Bryant are part of an operation that's been rolling almost continuously since 1891.

Next week the plant will mark its 125th year with a celebration.

"It's quite a big milestone," said Zoe Myers, Public Affairs Manager for the Big Island Mill.

On October 8 Georgia Pacific will hold a party for employees and retirees at the Sedelia Center.

"The CEO is coming to recognize us, along with a number of other people from our Atlanta headquarters, so we're very excited about it," Myers said.

The Big Island Mill is not only the oldest employer in Bedford County, it's also the second oldest plant Georgia Pacific has in operation in the entire United States.

"We make a product that America wants," remarked Bryant when asked about his employer's longevity in Big Island.

Georgia Pacific recently spent $50 million to improve technology at the mill.

Employees say that investment and the rarity of layoffs at their plant make them feel secure about their jobs.

"I think it is paramount to the local economy that this plant stays open," said John Karnes, a 17-year veteran of the plant's workforce.

"We've always been here and I feel like we'll always be here," said Bryant.

Driving life in Bedford County and surrounding communities for parts of three centuries.