Thurmond: Job creation is essential for Albany

ALBANY -- Georgia's Labor Commissioner handed over more than $25,000 in funds to assist the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission in finding a new corporate tenant Wednesday.

Michael Thurmond, who has been at the helm of Georgia's Labor Commission through one of the roughest periods in terms of job loss in the state's history, said that priority one is getting vacant facilities like the Cooper Tire and Rubber Plant on Sylvester Road occupied to recover some of the 1,300 jobs lost when the company left town.

"We know how challenging it is to create new jobs," he said. "We're here to continue to work until all those unemployed in Georgia are working again."

Cooper officials announced in late 2008 that they would be closing one of their North American Plants. In 2009, the company said that the Albany plant would be closing.

Bob McKinney, chairman of the EDC, said that the money will be a welcomed resource to assist the EDC in finding a suitable tenant for the 2.2 million square foot building.

"The Cooper tire building is an awesome asset for us," he said. "But we have to get it open and get it working for this community again."

State Rep. Winfred Dukes, who was on hand during the check presentation Wednesday, said that getting those 1,300 people back into gainful employment is a top priority.

"The officials in this community are still working on behalf of the community to ensure that the plant remains a viable asset to this city and county," Dukes said.

Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard echoed his comments.

"That's what's important...putting people to work," he said.

Cooper periodically laid off employees throughout the year until the number dwindled to just a few when the plant officially closed last month.

Since the announcement, local officials have been working with the Department of Labor to provide resources to those impacted by the shutdown, Thurmond said.

The labor Department partnered with Albany Tech to sponsor training seminars, education fairs and employee development training which attracted more than 200 former Cooper employees, Thurmond said.

That cooperative spirit embodies Albany, Mayor Willie Adams said.

"When adversity occurs, this community tends to band together," Adams said. "We have listed to the right and left, but we haven't sunk yet."

EDC Spokesperson Barbara Rivera-Holmes said that EDC officials have given tours of the property to several prospective tenants -- including two in the last three weeks.