Year Saw New Jobs, Losses As Well

In 2007, jobs were saved, jobs were created and, unfortunately, some jobs were lost, Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden Etowah Industrial Development Authority said.

McCain said 480 new jobs were created and more than 1,300 jobs were saved or retained in 2007.

And he feels good about 2008’s prospects.

But 420 jobs were lost because of one plant that company officials announced earlier this month will close in early 2008 and from the sale of another.

McCain said there were four industrial projects completed or initiated in 2007, representing a capital investment of more than $160 million.

In April, Rigid Building Systems, which manufactures pre-engineered metal buildings, opened its $12 million, 250,000-square-foot plant in the Airport Industrial Park. The company has more than 100 employees in Gadsden and still is hiring, McCain said. He said Rigid officials hope to reach an employment level of 200 in 2008.

In August, Prince Metal Stampings opened a new $25 million automotive stampings plant in the Airport Industrial Park that will employ 80. Hiring is under way, McCain said.

McCain said the former Packaging Integrity building in the Gadsden Commerce Center was sold earlier this month to a company that intends to create 200 jobs in 2008. Company officials are working to complete permanent financing for their machinery and equipment, which they expect to finalize by February. McCain said the firm does not want to make a public announcement until this is accomplished.

More good news came with Goodyear announcing the plant’s $125 million modernization, which will save the approximately 1,300 jobs at the plant.

“A comprehensive team effort involving local and state officials saved the Goodyear plant, which had been scheduled for closure,” McCain said. “We worked on this initiative since the summer of 2006, and the groundbreaking took place in September. The end result is that instead of being closed, the plant is being expanded,” McCain said.

“This modernization should preserve Goodyear’s production and employment in Gadsden in the decades ahead,” McCain said.

“All this (2007 projects) resulted in a lot of existing jobs and tax revenues being retained, is creating new tax revenues to pay for public services and provides new employment opportunities for those who lost their jobs as well as residents who want new or better jobs,” McCain said.

As a consequence of Tyson’s sale of its Gadsden plant to Koch Foods, 250 jobs were lost, McCain said. He said Koch Foods is investing $15 million in the plant for pollution control and other equipment. He is hopeful many, if not all, of these jobs will be re-created in 2008.

Earlier this month, Fortune Brands announced Dixie Pacific Manufacturing Co’s plant will be closed in February, eliminating 170 jobs.

McCain said the closing came as a “complete surprise” since company officials told the IDA in August that they were happy in Gadsden. The company’s market share was stable, profits were good and officials were planning to introduce new products.

“We have spoken with Fortune Brands’ real estate manager about our need to find a new employer for this facility, which is in a very desirable location,” McCain said.

“Looking forward to next year,” McCain said, “we’re in the process of closing a deal with Project Freeze, which will be built on a portion of the former Cameron property. The total capital investment by the companies involved in this project will be approximately $100 million. Corporate approval is expected early in 2008. We’ve been working on this project for two years, and intensively since February,” McCain said.

The project is a processing plant and distribution center.

McCain said Project Robot selected Gadsden for an automotive-related operation that would create more than 170 jobs, if it is able to secure the needed financing. That project’s leaders also are interested in property where the Cameron planned community was to be.

McCain said the IDA is working with prospects evaluating the former Advance Auto Parts building as a production location. He said the hope is to fill that building with a new employer “during the coming year,” McCain said.

McCain said the IDA also is working with several existing industries on expansion projects, some of which may be completed in 2008.

He said the IDA has worked on several other projects he expects to become realities during 2008, involving a combined capital investment exceeding $100 million and hundreds more new jobs.

“The biggest problem local plant managers tell us they have is finding workers, especially skilled ones,” McCain said. “This obviously affects their ability to expand, just as it hampers our ability to recruit new industries.

McCain said November’s unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, and economists consider this to be full employment.

McCain said the actions of Mayor Sherman Guyton’s Workforce Development Partnership and approval by Gadsden City Council members of funding for career transition initiatives in high schools by Gadsden State Community College “is already having a positive effect on solving this problem, and the benefits will be felt for years to come.”

By Andy Powell
Times Staff Writer