County officials confident manufacturing workforce reductions not an emerging trend
The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) announced midweek that Dallas, Texas-based Trinity Industries, Inc. will lay off 138 employees at the company’s railcar manufacturing facility in Cartersville.
Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development Executive Director Melinda Lemmon said she was not contacted by Trinity prior to the layoffs being reported to the GDOL.
Rather, she said the department received a “very generic” Worker Adjustment and Retaining Notification (WARN) Act letter listing affected job classifications but no departments or divisions.
“They tend to hire in welding and painting categories,” Lemmon said. “That would be my assumption for the category of skill sets that are involved in this reduction of force.”
Continuing, she said she has not heard directly from Trinity officials about the rationale for the layoffs.
“I would expect that the impact on the transportation industry, in general, has a lot to do with it,” she said. “That’s an educated guess on my part.”
Historically, Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said Trinity’s employment levels tend to fluctuate depending on contracts for specific projects.
“It probably is more related to the end of some contract than a particular COVID thing,” he said. “I think in general, logistics is at full speed right now — freight is moving, things are getting shipped, trucking volume is normal.”
A little over three years ago Trinity announced the layoffs of 298 employees at its facilities off Old Grassdale Road.
“My impression is they kind of lay people off until they have another contract that can keep them busy,” Olson said. “Their ebbing and flowing is kind of part of their internal business model and not necessarily related to any impact from COVID.”
He said the local government has not had any discussions with Trinity officials about the industrial conglomerate's future plans in Bartow County.
“We’ve got about 10,000 people employed in manufacturing, so a couple of hundred people is 2% of the workforce,” Olson said. “The unemployment rate nationwide, as you see, is like 16% … I’m sure ours is a lot higher than 2%, but that’s not much of an impact on a manufacturing base of 10,000 folks.”
Trinity Industries wrapped up 2019 with roughly $3 billion in revenue. The publicly-traded company’s annual revenue stood at about $6.3 billion at the end of 2015.
Despite the loss of 258 manufacturing jobs in Bartow over a one-week period, Lemmon said she doesn’t foresee an emerging trend when it comes to the county’s industrial employers.
“I know there are a lot of individual plans and strategies being put in place, some very thoughtful and strategic actions are being discussed and started to be implemented,” she said. “So I’m cautiously optimistic that most of our companies are going to make it through — we certainly hope that that’s the case and we’re doing our best to work toward the end of this, working toward solutions that will help all the concerned get through this storm.”
Olson said he also feels confident that the majority of Bartow’s businesses — and not just the county’s major manufacturing employers — will weather the economic downturn in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll see a fairly fast recovery for most businesses, I don’t think it’s as dire as some people do,” he said. “There are some small businesses that I think are not surviving the downturn even with all the aid that’s available, but the vast majority seem to be making it through and coming out the other side — so it’s just a question to me of consumer confidence, when will people get back to spending?”
At this juncture, Lemmon said she doesn’t want to “overanalyze” the decisions made by individual employers.
“I’m not sure that we have all the answers on how our manufacturing group of employers are going to make it through this pandemic,” she said. “We’re just trying to ride through the storm the best we can and minimize the damage along the way.”
As far as efforts to stabilize and bolster manufacturers, Olson said neither the State or the County have the financial reserves available to make any great strides.
“The feds are the ones who can print money and live in a deficit world, so the main economic stimulus to help businesses are all these programs that either Congress has approved or the Federal Reserve,” he said. “They’re about to spin up their Main Street Lending Program, which is something like $600 billion for loans to businesses with $5 billion or less in turnover and 15,000 or less employees.”