A One-Company Town Loses Its Company Three-quarters of the residents in the small Alabama town of Wadley worked at the same manufacturing plant until it closed down. Now citizens and lawmakers are searching for ways to keep the town's already high poverty rate from sinking further.
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A One-Company Town Loses Its Company

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A One-Company Town Loses Its Company

A One-Company Town Loses Its Company

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People in the town of Wadley, Alabama need no reminders. It was a one-company town until the one company closed. What makes it even worse is the reason why it closed. Tanya Ott reports from WBHM in Birmingham.

TANYA OTT: Mayor Pro-Tem Toni Gay is a one-woman welcome wagon for Wadley, Alabama.

Ms. TONI GAY (Mayor Pro-Tem, Wadley, Alabama): You never have to ask anybody for help, because somebody knows that you need help before you need it and they've already helped you. It is a beautiful, beautiful, sweet little town.

OTT: Small-town picturesque on the outside, but walk inside city hall and you'll see the decay that symbolizes the challenges facing this town of 650 people. Gay points to water stains on the ceiling. The roof leaks.

Ms. GAY: We are seeing the sheetrock that is deteriorated back there. We are seeing the ceiling that is almost falling in.

OTT: The town doesn't have the money to fix up the historic building. The poverty rate was already 31 percent 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.

(Soundbite of machinery)

OTT: 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.

(Soundbite of machinery)

OTT: 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.

Ms. KATHLEEN NEWMAN (Runs Accounting Firm): Almost, at times, it makes you want to cry to think about the impact is doing on the families in town.

OTT: 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 other 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.

Mr. JOHNNY WHITAKER (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union): You know, and 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 going to be put out on welfare. And when you call Congress and you say help us, no response.

OTT: Alabama Congressman Republican Mike Rogers says he did ask Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner for help.

Representative MIKE ROGERS (Republican, Alabama): I just got a vanilla response. Well, you know, it's painful and we'll have to work through this, and wouldn't really address the direct problem that I presented him with.

OTT: Rogers 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.

Mr. WHITAKER: I mean, how can you buy gas to drive 50 miles? They lost their cars. They're losing their homes. It's depressing.

OTT: 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.

For NPR News, I'm Tanya Ott in Birmingham, Alabama.

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