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Ground broken at Wrangler plant

HACKLEBURG – For the small town of Hackleburg, the days since the April 27, 2011, tornado left death and destruction in its path haven’t been easy ones, but the events on Thursday brought hope for better days to come.

Employees and executives of the VF Corp. gathered with state officials and community members on Thursday to officially break ground at the site where the new Wrangler distribution center is being rebuilt.

Wade Hagedorn, manager of the plant, addressed the crowd of 200 people who gathered for the event.

“When people are faced with adversity, they can do one of two things: They can retreat in fear or they can press forward in faith,” Hagedorn said. “I am so glad I work with people who decided to press forward in faith.”

The decision to rebuild the plant in Hackleburg was one that Mayor Doug Gunnin said was crucial for his town.

“You don’t know how much it means,” Gunnin said. “If we had lost Wrangler, it would have been devastating.”

The VF Corp. is actually expanding the distribution center to be one of the most efficient and high-tech distribution centers operated by the company, according to Jim Templeton, distribution director for VF Corp.

The expansion will also provide about 50 new jobs, which Sen. Roger Bedford said will help to stimulate the devastated economy of the small town.

“We are so thankful that the VF Corp. decided to remain in the area,” Bedford said. “If they hadn’t made that decision, I don’t know what would have happened to Hackleburg.

“I really appreciate all the efforts Gov. Bentley has made to ensure the Wrangler plant would remain here, and I don’t think we would have gotten them back if the governor hadn’t stepped in and offered his full resources to help us.”

Gov. Robert Bentley was present for the groundbreaking and said Thursday was a great day for the town of Hackleburg and the state of Alabama.

“This [groundbreaking] today is probably one of the most important things that has happened in this entire state,” Bentley said. “I want to thank VF and Wrangler because they didn’t have to make the decision to build back. But I think they knew that it would be a good decision mainly because the quality of workers we have here make it a great company.”

Many of the employees who worked at the distribution center were present for the ceremony that officially signified their livelihoods would remain intact.

Pam Motuelle, a 22-year VF Corp. employee, was employed as a freight clerk in the distribution center’s office on April 27, 2011.

“We knew the weather was getting bad and Wade told us to go home,” she said. “I left at 10 minutes till 3 and it probably saved my life.

“About 4 p.m., I had just heard before the power went off that a tornado had touched down and I started trying to call all the people I knew. I finally got through to a girl in Russellville who had gotten a text from Wade that said the building was gone.”

Along with the loss of the building, the employees at the distribution center also lost a co-worker, 57-year-old Linda Knight, whose memory was honored on Thursday during the prayer at the ceremony. Knight was one of 13 employees who remained at the plant that day.

“I found out later that night that we had lost Linda,” Motuelle said. “It was all just so unreal and so devastating that something like this had happened. We just couldn’t believe it.”

Motuelle said she woke up the next morning and wondered what she was going to do without her job.

She had been with VF Corp. for 22 years and couldn’t fathom what life would be like if the company chose not to built back in the area.

“There was some uncertainty for a while, but I am so thankful the distribution center will be rebuilt and we will have jobs,” she said. “This is a great day for us.”