A small town in Central East Texas is racing to replace hundreds of jobs lost when one of the largest employers in Freestone County shut down.
“It’s like losing your old friend, you know, that’s been very loyal and good to you for the time that they’ve been here,” said Jeff Looney, Fairfield City Administrator.
Fueled largely by locally mined coal, Big Brown Power Plant began operations in 1971 and employed more than 200 people, many of them living in the city of Fairfield.
“When you got natural gas prices so low, it makes it hard for a coal plant to compete with that," said Looney.
Too old and too expensive to keep running, Big Brown’s owner, Irving-based Luminant, shut down the plant on Feb. 12.
“I guess it’s just like all of us, when you get too old that you can’t do some things then it’s hard to repair it," said Looney.
The owner of a local real estate company, Landis Bayless worked at Big Brown for 28 years.
“Some of the employees, they’re not going to be able to find jobs here, they’re going to have to relocate, which means maybe uprooting your family and going somewhere else,” said Bayless.
Local store and restaurants are already feeling the effects.
“When we lose several hundred local people, it will feel an impact,” said Sonny Daniel, who owns nine local businesses, including several restaurants.
One of the restaurants closed shortly after Luminant announced Big Brown would be shutting down.
“You’re really anxious about what the future might hold," said Daniel. “I’ve got six kids that I’m raising here, so it’s kind of a wait and see to see where the chips may fall but we’re just hoping everything works out.”
When the power plant ceased operations, the local Napa Auto Parts store lost its biggest customer.
“We’ve extended hours on certain days to try to make up for some losses," said manager Josh Bayless. “We’re not going to let anybody go. We’ll do all we can before that ever happens.”
There are some new jobs on the way.
There’s a new industrial park taking shape in Fairfield, where a large manufacturing company has pledged to build a 90,000 square foot facility that will eventually employ more than 100 people.
“This is the shift that we have to do is create some other primary jobs, some other manufacturing jobs, and open up some new possibilities here," said David Fowler, President of the Fairfield Economic Development Corporation.
“I think it’s a great time to expand our horizons and not give up," said Looney. “Fairfield people, all of Freestone County, never been known for just throwing up their hands and quitting, they’re going to move forward.”
About 20 people will continue to work at the Big Brown site and the adjacent coal mine through the end of next year.
The company still hasn’t decided what to do with the property once all the work there is complete.