A One-Company Town Loses Its Company

fromWBHM

It's hard to find a one-company town anymore. But in rural Alabama, there's a town where three-quarters of residents worked at the same manufacturing plant — until the plant closed down.

Wadley, Ala., is "a beautiful, beautiful, sweet little town," says Mayor Pro-Tem Toni Gay.

"You never have to ask anybody for help," Gay says. "Because somebody knows that you need help before you need it and they've already helped you."

Wadley is small-town picturesque on the outside. But inside City Hall, you can see the decay that symbolizes the challenges facing this community of 650.

Gay points to water stains on the ceiling. The roof leaks. "We are seeing the sheetrock that's deteriorated back there," she says. "We're seeing the ceiling that is almost falling in."

'Makes You Want To Cry'

The town doesn't have money to fix up the historic building. The poverty rate was already 31 percent before the largest employer filed for bankruptcy. And Meadowcraft Inc., a large manufacturer of outdoor wrought-iron furniture, owes Wadley more than $100,000 in back utility bills. Sales tax revenues are down as well since Meadowcraft laid off hundreds of workers.

A few blocks from the plant, Bonnie's Country Kitchen no longer opens for breakfast. The kitchen used to deliver chicken biscuits to the plant every morning. These days, a meager lunch crowd is all that remains.

As steak quesadillas sizzle on the griddle, resident Kathleen Newman chews over the changes Wadley has 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," Newman says, to think about the impact on the town's families.

Newman runs a small accounting firm. She kept the books and did tax preparation for some of the local businesses that closed. She says she may have to lay off some of her employees.

That is what frustrates locals: They're suffering, even though Meadowcraft's business was up. The company says it had plenty of orders from big retailers.

But an accounting scandal left Meadowcraft in trouble. In March, the company announced its president and chief financial officer were no longer employed by the company. Wells Fargo and several other financial institutions revoked the company's credit and pushed Meadowcraft into involuntary bankruptcy.

Wells Fargo did not return requests for an interview.

In Search Of A Solution

"You know, I get irritated every time I think about that because all of these billions of dollars that was given to the banks," says Johnny Whitaker, secretary-treasurer of the Alabama Mid-South Council of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "And you've got a group of people in rural Alabama that's going to be put out on welfare. And when you call Congress and say 'Help us,' no response."

Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, says he did ask Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner for help and only received a "vanilla response."

"[He] wouldn't really address the direct problem that I presented him with," Rogers says.

Rogers says he hopes to find money to retrain the laid-off workers. But Whitaker says there's no place else nearby for them to work.

"I mean, how can you buy gas to drive 50 miles?" Whitaker says. "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.

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