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Town Awaits Word On Wrangler Plant Destroyed By Tornado

Thu, 07/14/2011 - 9:01am

Tom Smith, AP

HACKLEBURG, Ala. (AP) — Marion County Commissioner Don Barnwell said rumors about the future of a Wrangler distribution plant that was wiped out by the tornado that hit Hackleburg have everyone "scared to death."

"It seems like every day there is a new rumor popping up," said Barnwell, who lives in Hackleburg and represents the town and surrounding area.

The distribution center was destroyed by a tornado on April 27, as were most businesses in Hackleburg. Authorities said 13 people were inside the plant when the powerful tornado hit. One person was killed.

Rumors about the jeans distribution center gained momentum earlier this week when VF Corp., the parent company of Wrangler, postponed an announcement on the future of the plant.

Craig Hodges, vice president of Edelman, an Atlanta-based public relations firm that handles communications for VF, said a decision was originally scheduled to be announced Wednesday, but the decision was delayed after the evaluation period was extended.

"The evaluation period has been extended to the end of the month," Hodges said. "VF will announce the decision by July 31."

Hodges said the company's review process is near completion.

"We understand the interest in this announcement, and its significance," said Eric Wiseman, chairman and chief executive officer at VF. "However, our process for reviewing such decisions is thorough and requires more time to complete. We have explored many different scenarios, and rebuilding in Hackleburg remains an option."

Hackleburg Police Chief Kenny Hallmark said the distribution center remains a constant topic of discussion. The distribution center is the city's largest industry, employing 150 workers.

"It's something that everyone is concerned about because the plant means so much to this town and the area," Hallmark said. "You can't go many places in town where Wrangler isn't mentioned."

VF officials said the company continues to provide work for most of the 150 displaced employees, sending most of them to another company-owned facility in Holly Pond as well as an old plant in Hackleburg.

Hodges said the final decision on the distribution center will be made with input from numerous people throughout the VF operation, including senior management, human resources and the board of directors.

"There's not one person who will make the ultimate decision; it's more of a committee review," Hodges said.

Barnwell said county officials are working with Hackleburg officials and state agencies in efforts to persuade the company to rebuild the plant. He said state officials, including Gov. Robert Bentley, have promised to do all they can to keep the distribution center in Hackleburg.

"We all have been on conference calls with the governor and officials with the Alabama Development Office," Barnwell said. "They understand the importance of this distribution center being rebuilt here. They've promised to help us, and they are. But the decision is out of our hands.

"It would be devastating to the town and this entire area to lose this center. All we can do is hold our breath, hope, pray and wait. The announcement on July 31 is critical to the life of Hackleburg."

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