WETUMPKA, Ala. (WSFA) - The two-page fax slipped in Tuesday night at the Elmore County Courthouse. It was one Commission Chairman Troy Stubbs never saw coming. “Completely unexpected," he admitted.
It was the official notice that Frontier Yarns was shutting down for good. The entire workforce, all 148 employees, out the door by the end of the year.
Officials from the corporate office of parent company Frontier Spinning Mills also sent letters to individual employees, then released a statement Thursday to WSFA 12 News confirming it will close its plant and layoff all workers by the end of the year.
Frontier’s Director of Human Resources, Bob Kain, responded to WSFA 12 News’ requests for comment saying “our employees have been dedicated and we appreciate their hard work over the years.” But he added, “We regret the necessity to close the Wetumpka plant."
Plant 81, located on Central Plank Road in Wetumpka, is Frontier’s only Alabama facility. The rest are located in its home state of North Carolina.
At the Alabama Department of Labor, there was surprise and bewilderment, “especially with this much growth in this particular area and particular trade," said Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “So yes, it caught everybody by surprise.”
Frontier bills itself as “one of the largest producers of 100% cotton and cotton-blend yarns in the world.” The plant opened in 2001. Its demise comes just two years after the 2017 celebration of a multi-million dollar expansion.
The fanfare, the shovels in the dirt on April 28, 2017, made it appear Frontier was on a roll. Until now.
All operations will cease on Dec. 29, according to a 60-day notice provided to WSFA 12 News by an employee affected by the closure. Each employee will get 60 days of pay and benefits, up to the day of closure.
“This was a decision they felt they needed to make for the health for their entire company," said Chairman Stubbs.
Yet there is hope for the very people getting pink slips. About 3,700 jobs are available right now just in Montgomery County, and the jobless rate in Elmore County is a record low at 2.2 percent.
“It could be in construction, manufacturing or it could be in the same role this group is in right now," said Secretary Washington.
The ripple effect could very well be felt by local businesses, such as restaurants, that depended on Frontier for business.
JOB HELP MEETINGS PLANNED
While there is no union representation and no “job bumping” option for employees that would allow them to take a junior employee’s position, Frontier says it is working with the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Workforce Division to help employees find new jobs in the area.
The state’s Rapid Response Team is already swinging into action, setting up days to help employees find other work. The days are set for Nov. 5th and 6th at the plant. The first session begins at 10 a.m., while the second starts at 6 p.m. on both days.
Kain said Frontier will also work any employee who shows interest in transferring to one of its North Carolina plants.
David Niesen with the Commerce Department’s Displaced Workers Unit has since confirmed receipt of Frontier’s WARN notice. He says that will qualify the affected workers for numerous benefits to help with their transition.
“The WIOA (Workforce Innovative and Opportunity Act) will pay up to $19,000 in free training for them to go to school to learn a new career and hopefully a higher wage,” Niesen explained. “It also pays for On-The-Job Training and relocation expenses up to $3,500 if they need to move to find a job.”