In 2009, I noticed an odd thing as I stopped to check out a closed-down factory in Wadley, Alabama. The building was clearly vacant, but there were 10-12 people outside mowing and trimming weeds. So I asked them, “Who’s paying you?” “Nobody,” one of them said. “We just love this factory.”
It was clear that this place was once a special part of this town.
As a manufacturer of patio furniture, I saw this as an opportunity. Why not use this facility, which had all the equipment — and potential workforce – needed to produce high-quality products? Because the factory was part of a bankruptcy filing, I went before a judge to see about buying it. When I told him my plan to turn the factory into a facility that once again produced American-made products, he slammed his gavel and said, “You got it.”
Because Walmart’s commitment to U.S. manufacturing allowed for the flexibility of a multi-year deal for Walmart to purchase product from the Wadley facility, we’ve been able to put money into renovations. Currently, we’re spending millions on efficiency upgrades and new equipment.
The factory, which opened in 1963 and was previously owned by another company that produced wrought-iron patio furniture, was the heart of the Wadley community. When you consider that the town’s population is roughly 700, it makes sense that this facility employed a large percentage of its residents. Today, our new patio furniture factory has 200 employees, and I see that number growing by 50-100 in the coming years. That growth can only be a help to the local economy – it’s 200 people who need to eat breakfast and lunch at local restaurants and buy stuff from local merchants on their way home from work.
As part of our reopening of this facility, we’re also able to support educational initiatives in Wadley and throughout Randolph County. Our biggest workforce supplier is a technical school also located in Wadley. We supply the material, and the school trains the welders. We are able to hire skilled workers at various levels, not to mention support these vocation programs for the future. We also house a weekly food bank. We store and supply some of the food and other needs, including allowing space for the distribution of these goods to as many as 100 people per week.
I’m proud to be a part of making a big impact on this small town.