Maury Co. leaders say they've survived 'harder blows'
SPRING HILL, Tenn. - The General Motors assembly plant is one of three GM plants nationwide to be put on idle later this year.
While the news could have been worse and the plant shutdown, city and county leaders in Maury County fear the stop in production could drive the county's unemployment rate past 20%.
"We are so concerned," Maury County Mayor James Bailey said as he began a news conference in the county commission chambers late Monday morning. "I guess we first think about the finances of Maury County, the city of Columbia, Spring Hill, Mt. Pleasant, but our first concern will be for those employees who are going to lose their jobs."
The Spring Hill plant currently employs about 2,500 workers and leaders know government budgets, heavily dependent on sales tax, will take a hit with people not spending or moving away
"This will impact our bottom line and thus we are going to have to properly scale back," said Columbia City Mayor Bill Gettner at the news conference.
The county leaders say education, public safety and services won't be sustained if people leave and taxes dwindle.
"That puts a crimp on everybody in the city, so it is going to affect us quite bit," said Spring Hill Mayor Mike Dinwiddie.
The local leaders suggest every resident can help.
"I would ask the people of Maury County to shop locally, keep the money in Maury County to help the tax base," added Primm.
Chuck Killion opened an ice cream and coffee shop on the county courthouse square nine months ago, just as car sales and the national economy plunged.
While it wouldn't seem like the best time to start a new business, in Maury County, sales tax revenue was actually increasing.
Killion said while GM's decision to idle the Spring Hill plant "will hurt", 10 years ago it would have "devastated us."
"We have diversified," he said. "We are not dependent on GM as our sole employer."
Randy Wilmore runs a small healthcare company that employs 55 people in Maury County and will soon chair the county's business recruiting group Maury Alliance.
He agrees with Killion.
"We are probably better equipped to deal with this than some of these other places, but it's hard to explain that to families involved with this," said Wilmore.
Like the other local leaders, he said Maury County is "resilient" and has "been through tough times before."
Maury County's unemployment hit 20% plus in the 1980s when various chemical plants closed.
The area soon bounced back as other businesses opened, and Maury County is prepared to do it again.
"As we have got through other companies closing, it may take a little longer this time," said Tom Primm, Chair of the Maury County Commission.
Production at the facility in Spring Hill is expected to stop in the fourth quarter of 2009.