Hundreds of workers at the incinerator and the Anniston Army Depot proper are being laid off, or their positions ended through attrition, as the incinerator shuts down. And some economists say that while many will find new jobs, it is unlikely most will still be working in the area or even the state — a shift that will likely hurt the local economy.
The U.S. Army announced Wednesday that it had laid off one of 83 workers at the Anniston Chemical Activity or ANCA, which was responsible for the safe storage of chemical munitions at the depot. The facility destroyed the last of its chemical weapons stockpile last year. ANCA is currently ensuring the storage igloos for the weapons are clean enough for possible use in the future.
Army spokesman Mike Abrams said though one employee was laid off, several more have already been assigned other jobs or been lost to attrition. The ANCA at its peak once had more than 170 employees and maintained 661,529 chemical agent-filled munitions.
In addition to the ANCA workers, about 800 employees work for Army contractor Westinghouse at the incinerator.
Of the ANCA workers lost in the last few months, about 15 took jobs outside of Anniston; four of those went to the incinerator’s sister site in Kentucky, Abrams said. Also, seven workers took jobs at the depot not involving chemical weapons and 20 retired, he said.
The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency and ANCA management worked hard to find replacement jobs for the workers, he said.
“I think it’s safe to say the employees were appreciative of the efforts,” Abrams said.
Abrams noted that the rest of the ANCA jobs would disappear around July of next year, meaning more people will likely be either out of work, retired, or working jobs outside the county. Meanwhile, the 800-or-so Westinghouse employees are also working themselves out of their jobs as they dismantle the incinerator.
Robert Robicheaux, chairman of the department of marketing, industrial distribution and economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said when military employees lose their jobs, they tend to have to look far away for further employment, taking their disposable incomes with them.
“People losing jobs, who have special, high-level skills, they are not necessarily transferable locally,” Robicheaux said. “You’ll see a high percentage of people transferring to another city or state even. These people are not committed to Alabama — they are committed to the careers they excel at.”
And the loss of a once-stable work force will affect various aspects of the local economy.
“It means more houses will go on the market and could depress the housing market,” Robicheaux said. “And it reduces the amount of consumer purchases and there could be a considerable loss of sales tax revenue.”
Compounding the economic impact is that the depot will also reduce its non-chemical work force by about 480 employees by the end of September due to the end of the Iraq War and federal budget cutbacks. The first phase of the layoffs began at the end of March.
Keivan Deravi, economist at Auburn University Montgomery, agreed that with such large layoffs, even if many of the former workers find new employment, it is likely those jobs will not be where they currently live.
“Those workers could move to another county or out of the state,” Deravi said. “So you’re losing that economic base.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.