Bringing America Back: Wrangler Rebuilds After Tornado

PHOTO: The Wrangler distribution center is destroyed after a tornado touched down in Hackleburg, Ala., April 29, 2011.
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When a tornado tore through Hackleburg, Ala., in April, it nearly destroyed the little town and killed 26 people. Dozens of houses were flattened, along with several businesses and buildings -- including the Wrangler factory, the largest employer in the town.

Pairs of the iconic blue jeans were found as far as 90 miles away after the storm. Many of the workers lost their homes and were also left without hope.

Plant manager Wade Hedgedorn took shelter under a table with 13 other workers when the twister blasted through the plant. One person died.

"Count to ten, the building was gone," said Hedgedorn. "Unbelievable."

The workers were worried that their employer would walk away like so many other businesses did.

"It was the people, we're all tight buds here," said Frankie Burrell. "We're family."

But in a display of loyalty, Wrangler announced that it would rebuild by opening a new plant in two years, and would add 50 new jobs.

"The night that we came down here to announce that we were rebuilding, I mean, I've been with the company 33 years, I don't think I've had a better day or better night that that," said Sam Tucker, the vice president of human resources at the company's jeanswear division.

In the meantime, every worker still has a job and benefits. It only took a few weeks for the company to move to a refurbished warehouse about 80 miles away.

"This is a very loyal, longtime workforce here," Tucker said. "Actually, we've had a presence here in the town of Hackleburg since 1966. ... So we have a veteran workforce here that are very loyal."

The company drives the workers to their temporary space, so the company can continue to ship jeans while it rebuilds the old plant. Hackleburg is still the best location to meet Wrangler's shipping needs, and the company didn't want to lose the workforce made up of highly-skilled Americans.

Myra Hall worked for the company for 33 years.

"Wrangler stepped up to the plate," she said. "I mean, they took care of us."

Charlotte Walter, who has worked at the company for 20 years, said Wrangler has taught her to be more considerate of people, because that's the treatment she received.

"In abundance," she said, in tears.

Donna Fredrick, who has worked for 15 years at the plant, lost her home -- but today, she's also rebuilding. She'll work forever for a company that stands by its people, she said, and is bringing America back, one family at a time.

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