Area leaders: Titan cuts may hurt economy

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2001

Area business leaders have no doubts that major job cuts at Titan Tire of Natchez would have a negative effect throughout the local economy.

At least 20 employees were fired from the plant Wednesday. Previously, the plant had 330 employees, said Titan CEO Morry Taylor. Taylor said Thursday the plant would not move from Natchez and is not planning to move any equipment or fire additional workers.

But he did say Titan officials are evaluating &uot;the direction the company’s going&uot; given an impending recession. And if the company does decide to cut jobs, it will do so in Natchez, Taylor said.

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&uot;That would affect every sector of the economy,&uot;&160;said Tony Byrne, a member of the Natchez-Adams County Economic and Community Development Authority board and a former Natchez mayor. &uot;The money from that plant turns over enough times to affect most everybody.&uot;

&uot;It would have a domino effect,&uot;&160;said Jake Middleton, a Natchez alderman and president of Big M Supply, a local company that does business with Titan.

&uot;Those people not having jobs would affect the retail, real estate, grocery businesses, insurance, and so on … for probably 45 miles around Natchez.&uot;

Byrne and local Realtor Bob Haltom, along with other longtime business leaders in the area, remember all too well when Armstrong Tire, one of Titan’s predecessors at the plant, announced shortly after its 50th anniversary that it would shut down.

Haltom remembers attending a meeting of business owners at the Eola Hotel shortly after the Armstrong announcement – and he remembers the somber tone of the gathering.

&uot;It was one of our better industries for a long time and typically paid the best wages,&uot; said Haltom. &uot;When it faltered, it was very frightening.&uot;

The crash of the oil industry in the mid-1980s also crippled the local economy at the time, Haltom added.

&uot;I was in the mayor’s office when they decided to close,&uot; Byrne said. &uot;This (Titan situation) could also have a terrible impact. But Titan still has about 300 employees still out there.&uot;

Major cuts at Titan would also affect individual sectors of the economy, including Titan’s suppliers.

&uot;No one likes to lose business,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;It’s unfortunate – I&160;hope they can work things out. They’re not one of our biggest accounts, (but) I would hate to lose them as customers.&uot;

If Titan does make significant cuts, local banks would begin keeping an even closer eye on their loan default rates.

&uot;From a banker’s perspective, the first thing we would worry about is loans being paid,&uot; said Bazile Lanneau Jr., executive vice president of Britton & Koontz First National Bank. &uot;Then it would affect the next tier of businesses and the loans they have.&uot;

Still, banks endured tough times during the oil crisis of the 1980s, &uot;and that was much more significant,&uot; Lanneau added.

Haltom believes cuts at Titan would have &uot;a direct and quick impact on the real estate market.&uot;

&uot;Most of the people employed there are homeowners, and if they move elsewhere to seek employment, their houses will be put on the market to be sold,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;That makes it into a buyer’s market, which tends to drive the price down.&uot;

Others, such as Ronnie Nettles, dean of the Natchez campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, believe their economic sectors will not be affected to a great extent by cuts at Titan.

&uot;Most of what we’ve done for Titan is eight-hour orientations for new employees, and we haven’t done a lot of that in this past year, so it wouldn’t necessarily impact us,&uot; Nettles said. But job loss could impact people’s ability to pay tuition and other college costs, and Co-Lin could be called in at some point to help retrain displaced workers, he said.

While saying he hopes Titan can rebound from tough times and believes cuts would impact the local economy greatly, Barry Loy, retail sales manager for Supermarket Operations, said grocery stores would not be greatly affected.

&uot;In tough times, though, people tend to go home to eat instead of eating out, so it might not affect our business as much as some businesses,&uot; Loy said.

Although many acknowledged that there are not many ways local government officials could keep Titan from making cuts, they added that local leaders should redouble efforts to attract and retain other industries. &uot;We need to hire a new (EDA) director and seek new industries,&uot;&160;Byrne said. &uot;But hopefully, Titan’s situation will turn around.&uot;

&uot;What can you say?&uot; said Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith. &uot;It’s just not a good situation. It’s not the direction we want to be going in.&uot;

And for Smith, who campaigned on the importance of luring industry to the area, Titan’s news is one more &uot;blow&uot; in his new administration. Just two days into office, Smith received news that International Paper’s Natchez plant was being put up for sale.

&uot;That’s right off the top,&uot; he said. &uot;That was a blow, and then this, if it comes to pass, is going to be a blow. I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, it’s out of our hands. It’s a business decision that was made.&uot;