By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer and Chris McCarthy, Publisher
Ninety-one years ago, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company established a plant in Gadsden that created tremendous economic value for the community and state, providing jobs for thousands of families. Today, with manufacturing suspended due to COVID-19 and under 530 workers, Gadsden’s Goodyear plant drifts into murky waters – the fate of an uncertain future.
While rumors of Gadsden’s Goodyear plant closing circulated throughout the community for some time, the decision will not be finalized until Friday, May 1. Goodyear proposed a plant closure to United Steelworkers Local 12 members which the members examined and discussed this week. USW Local 12 members began voting on the proposal on April 30 and will cast all final votes on May 1. The final vote tally was unavailable at press time.
Since its opening in 1929, the Goodyear plant averaged an annual budget of 450 million dollars, spending over 110 million dollars on salaries each year. In 2019, USW Local 12 President Mickey Williams noted that Goodyear-Gadsden had not made significant investments since 2006. In the same year, the Goodyear plant staggered on the verge of closing before a local legislative delegation led by State Representative Craig Ford secured 20 million dollars in funding, along with an additional 10 million dollars for training current and new employees.
Ford stated last October those procured funds served as a last investment of consequence in the Gadsden plant.
In 2013 and 2014, Goodyear built a plant in Mexico where workers receive $2 to $6 an hour. According to Williams, as the Mexico plant grew, the Gadsden plant dwindled. With the tire market saturated, there is no market for consumer tires. By 2023, Williams estimated there will be 25 to 30 million more tires on the market than the market demands. As far as how this situation affects the Gadsden plant, however, it seems Goodyear decided its fate long ago.
The Gadsden plant began offering employee buyouts in late 2019, cutting employee numbers from 1,400 to 1,000 to 526 in mere months. Coupled with the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Gadsden plant battled challenge after challenge.
Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton recently issued a press release stating that Goodyear announced in corporate filings and with media confirmation that the company intends to permanently close the Gadsden plant.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the Goodyear workers who have lost their jobs due to the imminent closing of the Gadsden plant,” said Guyton. “To date, Goodyear has not notified the City of Gadsden of their permanent closure of Goodyear-Gadsden, but it is clear that Goodyear has taken advantage of a global crisis to send production outside the United States.”
The press release continued to detail how over the last year in conjunction with State leadership, the City of Gadsden reached out to Goodyear about preserving jobs in Gadsden. Goodyear would not respond to these efforts to bring the company to the bargaining table.
“Goodyear’s business decision to move the production of these tires to other locations and foreign countries is disappointing,” said Guyton. “The city, state, and community have invested and partnered with Goodyear for decades.”
The press release encouraged citizens that Gadsden’s leadership remains committed to bringing good-paying jobs to the community and doing everything possible for the workers laid off from Goodyear. Williams noted that Guyton did not discuss the situation with him personally.
“We can talk about the city and we can talk about the union, but Goodyear has made the choice,” said Williams. “[When Goodyear chose to open a plant in Mexico] they [did not choose] the American working family. They could have reinvested that money here in the Gadsden plant and they chose not to. [Instead] Goodyear attacked us during this pandemic to try to knock us all out – to try to get rid of us.”
Despite the clouds gathering around Goodyear-Gadsden, the current situation proves that during troubling times, individuals willing to offer helping hands will always arise. Williams noted that mayors from surrounding municipalities contacted him, along with Ford and State Representative Becky Nordgren, both of whom tried to provide assistance wherever they could.
“The Goodyear manufacturing facility has played an important role in Gadsden and our surrounding community’s economy for decades,” said Nordgren. “With the changes in the market, and foreign competition and the strategy used by Goodyear to unfortunately capitalize on the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the potential closing of our Goodyear plant.
“However, Alabama currently ranks as the fourth most business-friendly state in the nation, and the incentives we offer to both new and expanding industries are among the best in the United States. Those two factors alone offer strong hope that the void left by Goodyear’s absence can be quickly filled by another industrial manufacturer.
“In addition, Alabama’s automotive industry is among the most vibrant and active in the nation, and the economic developers at the Department of Commerce will be actively working to recruit a parts and component supplier as soon as possible.
“I have been in close contact with the governor’s office and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield as well as Congressman Robert Aderholt since late summer 2019 to incentivize Goodyear to stay. It seems that Goodyear’s mind was made up long ago. I will stay in close contact with the governor’s office and Commerce Secretary Canfield to ensure that replacing Gadsden’s loss remains among their highest priorities.”
The Chamber of Gadsden and Etowah County President and CEO Heather Brothers New offered words of encouragement to the Goodyear employees affected by a potential closure.
“We are disheartened at the news of the closure of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsden,” said New. “It has been a sustaining force in our community for the past 90 years. We appreciate their rich history and longevity and the impact they’ve had on our economy. The employees and their families are among our greatest assets.
“We salute their years of service to the company and especially their generosity to our community. Our commitment to workforce development is unwavering, and we pledge our utmost support in new recruitment efforts as well. Though we have many challenges ahead of us, amplified by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are proven to be a resilient community.”
Where one plan fails another proves successful and where one door closes another opens.
Although changes await Gadsden with the impending decision of the Goodyear plant’s closure looming overhead, one fact remains resolute: where individuals unite to support one another, cities survive and communities thrive. While the future remains uncertain, Gadsden holds the power to stand together and overcome; to create a legacy of resilience built by its people, with its people’s best interest at heart.
“The Goodyear Plant closing is a blow to our community and to the hundreds of families who depended on those jobs,” said Ford. “But the people of Gadsden are strong and we will bounce back. Now, more than ever, we need a real plan to grow this city and bring new jobs and opportunities to Gadsden. So, that should be our focus now. We can’t look back—only forward.”