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Industry: what lies ahead?

Published 11:42am Friday, May 31, 2013

EDA members analyze present, future for Lake Martin area industry

Recent announcements of both job reductions at Russell Brands and additions at KwangSung reflect and emphasize a continuing trend in the community toward a changing industrial landscape. But what does that mean for the future of the Lake Martin area’s workforce?

“More than 6,000 people have lost their jobs since 1998 – the hourly folks and the blue collar section and the white collar jobs,” said Don McClellan, executive director of the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance. “It’s painful to lose any jobs. For everybody it’s been very painful.”

With Russell Brands’ drop from 7,200 employees at its height to what will be less than 500 at the culmination of the most recent layoff, the EDA has for some time been focused on drawing new industry to the area. Although the buzzword is diversity, one mega-industry currently stands head and shoulders above the rest: the automobile industry.

“We’re still on the growth curve,” said Marshall Griffin, EDA chairman. “We don’t know where that tops out and levels, but that’s what we’re riding right now. We want to diversify – we want other companies to come – but when you have a company here that says ‘We want to increase our employment 100 jobs and make a $10 million capital investment,’ what are you going to say?”

One of those growing automobile industries is SL Alabama, a Tier 1 automotive supplier for Hyundai, Kia and Chrysler that has been in Tallapoosa County since 2004, currently located in the Airport Industrial Park. The company has slid into the No. 1 slot for employment in Tallapoosa County.

“At the time (in 2004) we had the promise of 300 jobs,” McClellan said. “They now have close to 800. They have exceeded our expectations.”

SL Alabama isn’t the only company that has expanded. Sejin, KwangSung and C&J Tech are hot on the heels of SL Alabama as far as employment. Each boasted only a few dozen – or fewer – employees upon first locating to the area.

And McClellan said the local workforce is the county’s No. 1 asset.

“If anything stops growth of industry and jobs and investment in Alabama, it will be workforce,” McClellan said. “We’ve got to have the workforce, and the workforce we need now is technical.”

And with the continued growth statewide of the automobile industry – production is nearing 1 million cars a year – McClellan and Griffin said it’s a bandwagon the Lake Martin area needs to keep riding.

“They don’t have to expand here,” McClellan said. “They can do whatever they want to do … That’s why incentives are necessary. If we don’t offer incentives, somebody else is. It’s always been that way.”

And expansion is what’s sustaining local families and providing more local jobs.

“We have people who need jobs now. It meets employment needs now and feeds families now. So we’re going to continue to support these companies,” Griffin said.

With a vision toward diversity, McClellan said they are actively trying to attract a variety of companies to the area, focusing on industry like food, plastics and timber.

“We don’t want to have all our eggs in one basket again,” said Denise Walls, EDA office manager. “It works out, in the end, better for us to have 10-15 of those smaller companies than to have another Russell that employs the whole town.”

But in the midst of that push forward, another focus is maintaining positive relationships with local companies as well as community partners like the city, county and state governments.

“If we work together, we accomplish more,” McClellan said. “We may not all be best friends – we may not invite each other to supper – but we know how important it is to work together. I don’t know another community in the state of Alabama that has suffered the job loss we have and still survived. It’s just absolutely amazing to me.

“I think we’ve done well with what we’ve done. We could do better.”

 

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