A vacuum of jobs: Blackville leaders still considering Allied Air's closing

One thing they all agree upon is that the eventual closing of the Allied Air plant in Blackville is going to affect the town.

How negatively that impact will be remains to be seen, said several Blackville leaders.

Lennox International, the corporation of which Allied Air is a subsidiary, announced Feb. 4 that it would be closing its Blackville plant by 2011. The plant will go through a gradual reduction of workers until its final closing.
The first worker layoffs would occur in the fourth quarter of this year, or between October and December.

The Blackville plant employs 350 people and manufactures residential cooling units and heat pumps.

"As you see, it's going to be a big impact on our tax base," said Harry Felder, a Blackville town councilman. "That's going to be a big setback on the town."

"From my point of view, there's got to be training - for workers to be retrained. We've got to do all we can to recruit another business in there," he said.

The plant's closing did not come as a complete surprise, because Felder had heard rumors on the street, he said.

"The thing about it is the ripple effect it will have with the restaurants and the other businesses," Felder said.

Felder said if the plant's closing was not on the agenda of the Feb. 17 town council meeting, he would bring the topic up.

Likewise, town councilman Rupert "Russ" Reed said he would bring the topic up for discussion at the meeting too.

However, Reed said he had not heard any inkling of the closing until the Lennox announcement.

"It's not a good thing for us at all," Reed said. "That and (Augusta) Fiberglass are the only two industries in town. It impacts 300 people directly and everybody else - but really it will impact about 3,000 people."

Felder said the town needs to put itself in a position to point Allied workers toward resources that can help them and see what tax incentives the town could possibly offer to any industries that might be good prospects for locating in Blackville.

Mayor Jackie Holman said he is "open for suggestions" as to what to do next concerning the impending Allied closing.

"It's a bad situation," he said. "That was our largest tax base."

"The only thing we can do is work with the EDC (Barnwell County Economic Development Corp.)," he said.

Since the Allied plant will be closing in a phased scale down fashion, the town has a little time to consider the situation, Holman said.
"It's not like they are shutting the door tomorrow," he said.

What Blackville is and will be experiencing with laid-off workers and the loss of industrial tax revenue is not unique to the town but is occurring elsewhere, he said.

"It's a major problem all over," Holman said.

The Blackville plant closing is part of a trend that began in the 1980s as manufacturing jobs began transferring out of the country to take advantage of cheaper foreign labor, said Dan Ligon, another Blackville town councilman.

Ligon said to help the state's economy overall, there needs to be a fundamental change from large industry recruitment to encouraging more smaller business development.

"The manufacturing jobs are not coming back to Blackville," he said. "We are better off to have 100 small businesses in Blackville."

"I grew up in a small town in North Carolina (Hickory). We had tons of small entrepreneurs," Ligon said. "An entrepreneur-based economy is more stable and it creates more wealth. It would be great to promote that at the state level. We don't have that through the governor or the Department of Commerce."

South Carolina has consistently had a high rate of unemployment in the nation due to its emphasis on manufacturing, which is a declining industry nationally, Ligon said.

As of December, the state's unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent, according to data from the S.C. Employment Security Commission.
In the same month, Barnwell County had an unemployment rate of 15.8 percent. In 2006, the county unemployment rate for that year averaged 9.8 percent, according to ESC data.

Ligon said it would be wrong to view Allied as "the enemy."

"We are caught up in market forces beyond us. One thing we don't want is to make Allied Air the enemy," he said.