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Labor scene may improve as industries grow locally

While layoffs and possible closings are certainly not comforting news leading into the holiday season, the labor market in Marengo County may see some positive changes in the upcoming months.

According to Debra Fox, the executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Agency, there are several projects in the works that will add jobs in the near future. Inquiries from prospects continue.

“We have some new industrial growth developing, but we also have been working hard with our industries who are already here,” said Fox.

She said there is a stronger emphasis around the state — and Marengo County area is no exception — to focus on existing business retention and expansion. Most of the new jobs created, approximately 80 percent, come from existing businesses and industries.

“The big shift for us is to focus to make sure we help sustain and under gird what is here,” Neal Wade, executive director of the Alabama Development Office, stated at an economic summit earlier this month.

While not divulging any details about the projects, Fox said a couple of key expansions should bring ongoing job growth to Marengo County during 2009.

“Marengo County is faring better through this economic downturn than some rural counties,” said Fox. “As you see job loss in certain sectors of our industry base, you will also see job creation in others.”

One area the Black Belt expects to see growth is in the field of bio-fuels.

Ten alternative energy companies are considering Alabama for plants, Wade announced at the summit. Earlier this year, it was announced that an alternative fuel plant was being built in neighboring Sumter County.

“What we are experiencing is a slowdown in the wood-related sectors, upon which this area of the state depends heavily, “ Fox said.

Just this week, Linden Lumber laid off 125 employees.

Company officials described the layoff as an emergency reaction to an unforeseen drastic reduction in orders of hardwood lumber and hardwood flooring. The company was a leading manufacturer of southern hardwood flooring.

An existing industry visit was made to Linden Lumber by Fox and an ADO project manager in early fall, and the actions taken recently were not anticipated at that time.

“We are, however, seeing other areas of processing expanding,” said Fox.

Wade indicted that companies are using the current economic climate to reposition themselves for future growth in other areas.

“There are a lot of opportunities in this economy,” he said. One of those opportunities, Fox feels, is to innovate and add value to existing products. Doing so can result in new, previously untapped markets.

The Marengo County Economic Development Agency’s mission not only includes the recruitment of new industry, but also awareness of the needs of our existing businesses.

“The businesses and industries in Marengo County are the customers of the MCEDA, and we are a resource for them,” Fox said. “It is our job to work with companies to address common issues, as well as those unique to specific industries.”