“I just figured that after working there for seven years, that I wasn’t going anywhere,” Quinn said. “Then all of a sudden, it was over.”
Knowing his work as a machine tool operator would expire April 13, the Ohatchee resident decided two weeks earlier to visit a jobs fair hosted by “Operation: 1st Rate,” a federally funded program set up to help displaced depot employees find new jobs. He wasn’t there an hour before he got an interview with Aerospace Coatings International in Anniston.
He has worked there ever since.
The program, operated by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, has so far helped find new local jobs for 34 depot workers displaced this year — generating an estimated $7.9 million annual impact on the area economy in the process, according to the chamber.
“I probably would still be looking for a job if it wasn’t for the job fair,” Quinn said. “I’ve put in application after application to other places and haven’t gotten calls back.”
The depot announced earlier this year that it would lay off about 480 temporary and term employees due to budget cutbacks. Temporary workers are hired for short-term periods based on the army’s needs. Term workers are hired for between one and four years and their contracts are renewable if there is need for them.
To date, about 100 of those temporary and term depot workers have lost their jobs.
Sherri Sumners, president of the chamber and overseer of the program, said the 34 workers who had gained new jobs so far would have an annual $7.9 million economic impact on the area in terms of sales tax revenue and spending at local businesses. Sumners added that the aggregate payroll for the workers at their new jobs is $854,225 — an increase from the $701,000 aggregate payroll they had at the depot.
“That was surprising to us … up to this point, we’ve been able to help most people do a bit better,” Sumners said.
Richard Davis of Oxford, another seven-year employee at the depot, was able to earn a machinist job from Aerospace Coatings while at the job fair with Quinn. And like Quinn, Davis was worried when he learned his job would disappear.
“I got a wife and two kids … and a mortgage like everybody else,” Davis said.
Davis said though he wasn’t being paid as much as when he was at the depot, he enjoyed his new job.
“It’s nice being treated like a person and not a number,” Davis said. “It’s a good job.”
In addition to the current layoffs, 354 depot workers have either retired early or applied for early retirement since October. As of May 31, there were still 3,422 active civilian workers at the depot. Of those, there are 392 term employees who will eventually be let go. However, the release date for the remaining terms will be based upon workload and how their skill sets match workload requirements, said Jennifer Bacchus, spokeswoman for the depot.
“If the workload is there, it may be a little while before we have to let people go,” Bacchus said.
The Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment approved an 18-month, $600,000 grant last year for the chamber program, which began in August. However, the chamber did not receive the total sum of the grant, only about $250,000 of it. The rest was paid to TIP Strategies from Austin, Texas, to create a comprehensive strategic plan for the area. The chamber’s funding is enough to fund salaries for two employees to manage it, purchase computer equipment and set up a job station at the depot.
Sumners said the chamber has applied for an extension of the grant to expand the program’s services and help more displaced employees.
“It’s in the review process now,” Sumners said. “All we’ve heard is a request for more data and that’s a good thing because it means things are moving along.”
Sumners said she expected an answer about the grant later this summer.
As for the strategic plan, Sumners expects it will be complete by the end of July.
The plan’s recommendations will include expanding the work of Operation: 1st Rate, creating a regional marketing campaign around talent and working with Gadsden State Community College and other higher education providers to market careers requiring technical training and fostering entrepreneurship in the region.
“We’ve also asked them to produce for us a job seeker handbook … it’s gathered some of the best practices from other states,” Sumners said. “We’re hoping the grant extension will cover the cost to publish it.”
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star