It’s hard to find a one company town any more. But in rural east Alabama, there is a town where three-quarters of residents work at the same manufacturing plant. Or at least they did, until the plant closed down. WBHM’s Tanya Ott reports.
Mayor pro-tem Toni Gay is a one-woman welcome wagon for Wadley, Alabama.
“You never have to ask anybody for help because somebody knows what you need help before you need it and they’ve already helped you. It is a beautiful, beautiful, sweet little town.”
Small town picturesque, on the outside. But walk inside City Hall and you see the decay that symbolizes the challenges facing this town of 650 people. Gay points to water stains on the ceiling. The roof leaks.
“We are seeing the sheetrock that’s deteriorated back there. We’re seeing the ceiling that is almost falling in…”
The town doesn’t have money to fix up the historic building. The poverty rate was already 31% before the largest employer filed for bankruptcy. And MeadowCraft Incorporated owes Wadley more than $100,000 in back utility bills. Sales tax revenues are down, too, since MeadowCraft laid off hundreds of workers.
Just a few blocks from the plant, Bonnie’s Country Kitchen no longer opens for breakfast. Bonnie used to deliver chicken biscuits to the plant every morning. These days the meager lunch crowd is all that’s left. While steak quesadillas sizzle on the griddle, resident Kathleen Newman chews on the changes Wadley’s gone through. After a textile plant closed two decades ago, the city had a hard time attracting any new businesses. It put all its eggs in one basket – Meadowcraft.
“Almost at times makes you want to cry! To think about what the impact it’s doing on the families in town.”
Newman runs a small accounting firm. She kept the books and did tax prep for some of the local businesses that closed. She says she may have to lay off some of her employees.
And that’s what frustrates locals. They’re suffering, even though MeadowCraft’s business was up. The company says it had plenty of orders from big retailers. What got the nation’s largest manufacturer of outdoor wrought iron furniture in trouble was an accounting scandal. In March, the company announced its president and chief financial officer were “no longer with the company”. Wells Fargo and several others financial institutions revoked the company’s credit and pushed Meadowcraft into involuntary bankruptcy. Wells Fargo did not return requests for an interview. Johnny Whitaker is with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
“Ahhh, you know I get irritated every time I think about that because all of these billions of dollars that was given to the banks, and you’ve got a group of people in rural Alabama that’s gonna be put out on welfare. And when you call Congress and say ‘help us!’, no response.”
Alabama Congressman Republican Mike Rogers says he did ask Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner for help.
“And still, just got a vanilla response, well you know it’s painful, we’re gonna have to work through this and he wouldn’t really address the direct problem that I presented him with.”
Roger says he hopes to find money to retrain the laid off workers. But the union’s Johnny Whitaker says there’s no place else nearby for them to work.
“I mean, how can you buy gas to drive 50 miles? They lost their cars, they’re losing their homes. It’s depressing!”
The laid off workers are trying to keep busy. When word spread that a Texas company was coming to Wadley to look at the plant – and possibly buy it – a group of them voluntarily came in to tidy up the place. But so far, there’s no deal.