DayeTime: Tale of the Gulf Coast ‘Sandman'
For more than a year, “Project Blue” was a dream Vidalia hoped would come true.
On July 19, it did when the final documents were signed and the veil of mystery was dropped to reveal Vidalia Denim had purchased the former Fruit of the Loom plant from the town and will open a new textile operation in the near future.
The “Sandman” responsible for this dream is familiar to “dreamers” in Avoyelles Parish. His name is Dan Feibus, who was the manager and “dream weaver” of the promised Gulf Coast Spinning Plant in Bunkie.
That proposed cotton yarn spinning plant was also seen as a dream-come-true when Gov. Bobby Jindal announced in 2013 it would be coming to Bunkie, bringing hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of construction and improvements.
Unfortunately, Gulf Coast pulled the plug on the project shortly after site work began in June 2015.
Feibus and Gulf Coast sued Cleco over allegedly failing to fulfill promises on which the company had relied. That suit is still tied up in court.
I contacted Feibus several weeks ago because I had a feeling I needed to do an update on him and Gulf Coast. I researched online to see if he had any other projects underway. I found that Feibus is associated with several new corporations created over the past few years, including Vidalia Indus-trial Facilities (VIF). There were no reports of a major plant opening anywhere.
I figured my “feeling” was on the fritz, but decided to push through with the story anyway.
I called Feibus and asked him about the status of the Gulf Coast Spinning saga and then asked what he has been doing since he left Bunkie. I specifically asked if he had a project underway or planned in Vidalia, referencing VIF.
He paused and then said he couldn’t talk about his other business ventures, made a few comments about Gulf Coast and said his attorney would provide additional information for my article on Gulf Coast Spinning.
In hindsight, the pause was significant -- I just didn’t know it then. A week later VIF announced that it was “Project Blue” and that its Vidalia Denim would be opening in the old Fruit of the Loom plant. I had no knowledge of the top secret “Project Blue” negotiations in Vidalia because we do not cover news in Vidalia.
In addition to VIF and Vidalia Denim, two other Feibus-connected corporations are involved in the project -- Louisiana Denim and Indigo Industrial Investments.
The new plant expects to begin production in early 2019.
Louisiana Denim has been doing some improvements at the site since it secretly leased the plant from Vidalia in May 2017.
On June 19, 2017, it received a 22,286-pound Tensan Air Conditioning System from the Amsterdam-based Pars Co. The unit was shipped from Naples, Italy, to New Orleans aboard the freighter Sealand Michigan.
It’s amazing what you can find on the internet if you have just one little bread crumb.
Vidalia Denim will purchase raw cotton, spin it, dye it, weave it into denim fabric and then ship the denim to be made into blue jeans. It will use energy efficient, environmentally friendly technology to save money, water and the ecology.
In addition it will use only “e3 sustainable” cotton. “E3” is a program by Bayer CropScience that requires cotton producers growing Certified FiberMax or Stoneville cotton to follow strict standards -- from how they grow the cotton to the working conditions of their laborers.
The bales are certified as “e3 cotton” for buyers. The Vidalia mill will be the first to use only “e3” cotton.
Of course, FiberMax/ Stoneville officials are happy about that. Company official Malin Westfall said the Vidalia mill’s decision “is a significant development for ‘e3’ and marks a watershed moment for our program as for the first time a textile mill will use our program as its exclusive source of cotton.”
Another supporter carries a lot of weight in the jeans industry -- and could go a long way to alleviate any concerns people may have.
"This mill is pushing the standards for sustainability denim fabric in North America,” Roian Atwood of Wrangler said. “At Wrangler, we are excited about the opportunity to work with Dan and his team and the ‘e3’ cotton growers committed to sustainable agriculture practices to produce good-looking denim that utilizes innovative manufacturing methods."
Wrangler is in discussion with Vidalia Denim about the development of fabrics for its 2019 product line.
The denim plant will reportedly create 300 jobs -- the same number Gulf Coast Spinning promised to create. It is also expected to boost regional cotton production -- too late for Avoyelles’ recently closed Lagniappe Cotton Gin.
Or is it? Perhaps there’s a “Renaissance Cotton Gin” in the future if Vidalia Denim succeeds.
Meanwhile, there are those in Bunkie who wonder if Vidalia will soon join them in singing the “Feibus Blues” when this dream -- like theirs -- disappears like an early morning fog.
On the other hand, perhaps Vidalia Denim will be the project that proves the Gulf Coast debacle really wasn’t Feibus’ fault -- that he was a victim of circumstances and economics and not the orchestrator of the calamity.
Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft told me he has no misgivings, no suspicions and no doubts. He said city, parish, state and federal officials have done their due diligence to ensure the project is legitimate and will live up to its promises.
After news of Gulf Coast’s connection with the new plant surfaced, Concordia Economic Development, Natchez Inc. economic development agency and the Town of Vidalia issued a joint statement saying they “were made aware of the Gulf Coast Spinning project. Vidalia Denim is a different project with a different group of investors. We are comfortable with the deal the town has made with Vidalia Industrial Facilities/ Vidalia Denim. The property has been paid for and we look forward to working closely with them to develop a denim mill here in Vidalia.”
Feibus said several factors sunk Gulf Coast, but he left Bunkie without owing anything to vendors and subcontractors on the project.
Meanwhile, as Vidalians bask in the sunshine of a promising future, those in Bunkie are crouching under a black cloud from their not-so-distant past.
They will continue to think about what was promised, what could have been and what did not come to pass -- and keep trying to wipe the Sandman’s still-stinging sand from their eyes.