August 3, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Governor Says Thanks

Bentley credits employees for decision to rebuild plant

Matt McKean/TimesDaily
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley speaks with Wrangler plant manager Wade Hagedorn during a stop in Hackleburg about plans to rebuild the Wrangler plant that was destroyed by an EF5 tornado April 27.ding of the Wrangler plant that was destroyed by the EF5 tornado on April 27th. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley speaks with Wrangler plant manager Wade Hagedorn during a stop in Hackleburg about the announcement made about the rebuilding of the Wrangler plant that was destroyed by the EF5 tornado on April 27th.

Employees of the Wrangler Distribution Center shook Gov. Robert Bentley's hand Tuesday and thanked him for Alabama's role in helping convince VF Corp. management to rebuild the plant that was destroyed April 27.

The governor responded that he didn't travel to Hackleburg to receive thanks. He was there to give it.

“I want to thank Wrangler for its decision, but it's the workers here who are the reason for the decision,” Bentley said during a visit to Wrangler's old sewing and cutting plant which temporarily is being used as the distribution center. “VF Corp. saw a group of people who work so hard day in and day out.”

The tornado that destroyed nearly 80 percent of the town demolished the sprawling distribution center, which is the largest employer in the town with some 150 workers.

On Monday, VF corp. announced plans to rebuild the plant, a move many local officials believe is essential for the rebuilding of Hackleburg. VF Corp. plans to retain the 150 workers and add 50 for a total of 200 employees.

Sheila Ables, who was in the plant's front office when the tornado hit, was on hand for Monday's announcement.

“We were so proud to hear they were going to rebuild,” Ables said. “Everybody was so happy. There were a few of the workers who were so happy they were crying.”

Ables survived the tornado, only to learn later that her husband, Rodney Ables, was killed when the storm destroyed their home off Marion 20 in Hamilton.

Ables said she still vividly recalls being in the office and hearing someone ask, “Did you hear that noise?” and telling her to get under a desk as the tornado was preparing to bear down on the plant.

“I remember seeing the papers flying and I just closed my eyes and thought ‘we're dead,' ” she recalled. “I remember holding on to what felt like a bar under the desk for dear life. And then when it was over, it was open — you could see the light outside.”

Her son drove to the plant when he heard it was hit. Ables then rode to the house with him. When they arrived, she said, “it was a nightmare.”

“I mean, there was nothing left where we lived,” she said. “The front porch was still about where it originally was, but everything else was gone or flung across the road.”

Her husband's body was found near Marion 20.

“Just knowing he was lying right there on that road, I don't go down there that often,” she said. “There's just too many memories. We would have been married 32 years this month.”

Employee Frankie Burrell had a difficult time holding back tears while greeting Bentley and talking about what the plant means to him and the town.

“Having him visit means a lot to morale,” Burrell said. “It was so great to hear the news (Monday).”

Bentley said he realized the importance of keeping the plant. “You cannot replace, in a small town, 200 jobs,” the governor said.

Bentley added he is working hard to recruit industries to this region of the state, as the area continues to rebuild.

Burrell, a Hamilton resident who has worked 13 years at the plant, said it's impossible to travel along U.S. 43 without remembering April 27.

“I drive up 43 every day,” he said. “It's weird seeing where the trees used to be, where houses used to be. It breaks my heart to see the distribution center like this.”

Ables said she hasn't been able to return to work since that day because of injuries sustained in the storm and emotional distress. But she looks forward to returning to work and the reopening of the plant.

“I feel like it'll be better to go back to work,” she said. “It will make me feel better.”

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