By Eileen Bailey
AMORY – The days of sitting back and waiting for business and industry to come calling are over for the city of Amory.
City and community leaders began an “aggressive” effort to attract business by meeting Tuesday with some of the top economic development leaders in the state.
The need for additional businesses and industries in Amory is a result of the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in recent months with the closing of Simmons Furniture in late 1995 and Red Kap Industries’ announcement earlier this month that it will close soon.
More than 215 Red Kap employees in Amory will be without jobs beginning in March. The announcement of the closing was made Jan. 4.
Monroe County’s unemployment rate had more than doubled by the end of 1995, from 5.4 percent in January to 12.1 in November. This increase in unemployment has dumped Amory from being in the top 20 cities for low unemployment rates to being ranked 78th out of 82 cities statewide.
The closures also have created more than 600,000 square feet of vacant space, said Keith Blaylock, director of the Economic Development Partnership, a partnership that brings together the public and private sectors to promote economic development in Amory.
“As community leaders, it is our responsibility to help these people find jobs,” he said. “By bringing these groups together, we hope they will help us organize and get more industries in here and our people back to work.”
The city has been advised to develop a brochure to let businesses and industries know what type of space is available in the Amory area. Bill Boyd of the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association located in West Point said he and his organization have pledged to help Amory in its effort to attract business.
“We are considering Amory as a hardship case,” Boyd said.
To attract needed industries, city and economic development officials must be aggressive in their approach. After developing its brochure, Amory must make information available at trade shows for industries that best suit Amory. And most importantly, Boyd said, residents must be patient.
Residents should also remember that “Amory has a lot of reasons to be optimistic,” Boyd said. “I know that it is hard to make those who lost their jobs believe that.”
The large amount of available space, a highly trained work force and excellent community support are some of the strengths that will help attract new businesses, he said.
Also meeting with the group were representatives from the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, Appalachian Regional Commission and CREATE Foundation in Tupelo. Some of the community leaders on hand included executives from banks in Amory.
H.L. Robinson, executive vice president for the Peoples Bank & Trust in Amory, said the recent layoffs have had a profound effect on life in Amory.
“When you have 1,000 people (who have lost jobs) in a community of about 8,000, it affects all aspects of life,” Robinson said. “We are deeply concerned about it.”
Residents of all walks of life are concerned about the recent layoffs, including business owners in the downtown area. Jasper Thompson, owner of the Amory Mini Mall, and Dick Millender, owner of People’s Drug Co., said many of the people at Red Kap do a majority of their shopping in downtown Amory.
According to Thompson, the layoff won’t affect his business much, but it will hurt overall retail business in Amory. “We will see a little of that loss but not as much as the newer retail stores,” he said.
People’s Drug Co. has been in business in Amory since 1944 and in that time Millender has seen many changes in town. But plant closures are the hardest. His store has already seen a drop in sales. According to Millender, many of those laid off will start to cut back on going to the doctor and getting prescriptions refilled.
“These people have worked here and raised families in the area,” he said. Millender is concerned for those residents who lost their jobs, and not strictly from a business standpoint. “These are our friends and neighbors and we are concerned for their livelihood,” he said.