By Craig Ford
There is a lot that has been said lately – both online and in the media – about the future of the Gadsden Goodyear plant.
The families that rely on that plant for their jobs, insurance and retirement benefits are understandably very worried about the possibility of buyouts and what that means for the future of the plant.
The Goodyear plant has been a staple of our community for decades. It is the cornerstone of Gadsden’s automotive industry, and, aside from Gadsden State Community College and our local school systems, is the biggest employer in our area.
Working at the Goodyear plant has been a family business for many families in our community. To put it simply, losing the Goodyear plant would be devastating to Gadsden and Etowah County, but I believe we can prevent that from happening. The key will be for our local leaders and state lawmakers to work together and in conjunction with the leadership at Goodyear.
I know we can do it, because we did so once before when I served in the state legislature.
In 2006, the Gadsden Goodyear plant was in a tough spot. Like today, there was good reason to fear that we would lose the plant and the 1,400 jobs it provides. The local legislative delegation was able to save the plant by working together – Democrats and Republicans – along with the plant’s leadership and the leadership at Goodyear’s headquarters to develop a plan. The local legislative delegation secured $20 million dollars in funding and an additional $10 million dollars for training current and new employees due to modernization of the plant.
Back then, we had a Democrat state senator and a split delegation in the State House of Representatives. But we all worked together, and not just on this issue. We worked together on many issues and got a lot accomplished for Etowah County because we put our county first and our political parties second.
Today, it should be even easier for our delegation to work together because they are all Republicans, so there is no partisan divide.
We also have a Republican congressman who holds a powerful position on the House Appropriations Committee in Washington, D.C., and one of the most powerful U.S. Senators in the country in Richard Shelby.
In other words, Gadsden has never been in a more politically unified and politically powerful position. If we could save the Gadsden Goodyear plant when we were politically divided, I am certain that we can save Goodyear now.
Another thing we have going for us today that we did not have back then is a stronger focus from our state on trade and manufacturing jobs and training. We are investing more in trade school and vocational training than ever before, and Gadsden State Community College provides an excellent resource right here in town to help train the workers all of our local manufacturing plants need.
We also have a U.S. president who has made it clear that he will stand up to any company that tries to move our jobs to Mexico or some other foreign country. Our state and federal delegation has stated that it supports the president, so here is the chance to prove it by working with him to keep these jobs here in Gadsden.
I Care, and I am willing to do my part as a former elected official. We need to let the Goodyear leadership in Akron, Ohio, know that We Care. The Gadsden Goodyear plant not only provides jobs but provides nearly 15 percent of our city’s budget. That’s money for our schools, local roads and bridges and other critical projects here in Gadsden.
Our local leaders must let the leadership at Goodyear know that We Care. As a former legislator, I Care and I am willing to work with our local delegation to help them know what we did before.
I have always believed that the people of Gadsden and Etowah County are the hardest working people in our state, and that if you give us a fair chance and the tools to do the job, then there’s nothing we can’t do.
A fair deal can be reached. This plant and these jobs can be saved. I know it can happen, because I was there when we made it happen before. Now it’s up to our new leaders to show that they can make it happen, too.
Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and The Messenger newspaper. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.