By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Handy Hardware CEO Ken White announced Wednesday that the two-year old distribution center located on Handy Drive next to Interstate 20 east of Meridian will close its loading docks Dec. 31. White said the decision to close the Meridian facility was made to restore company profitability.
The 107 employees at Handy Hardware learned of the decision Wednesday morning.
White also met earlier Wednesday morning with officials of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, Meridian City Council members and leaders, and Lauderdale County supervisors to inform them of the company's decision.
"I'm still in shock," said councilwoman Mary Perry of Ward 2, who is also the council president. "One of the only blessings is that the employees will at least be able to work through the holidays. But I don't know ... just needs to sink in."
Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry said the closing is unfortunate and that she was saddened not only for the employees but for other businesses that will be impacted by this closing.
"I'm deeply concerned for the others who are affected by this news," Barry said. "But we will do all we can to turn this negative into a positive. We will have scores of people working to fill this building with another industry."
Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors President Joe Norwood said nobody saw this coming and that he was disappointed in the news. But he said there is a silver lining.
"We have a $20 million building and the county only paid $600,000 in infrastructure on this project," Norwood said. "The property owned by the county will be bringing in revenue in the form of taxes and lease payments and that will be a positive thing for us."
Neither the city of Meridian nor Lauderdale County owes any money on the building or property, officials said.
Norwood, Barry and Perry all said the main focus now is to begin aggressively marketing the building and property to other industries and businesses who may be interested in locating in a major transportation hub like Meridian. Norwood said he has already been talking with Wade Jones, executive director of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, on the options available.
"This is bad, no doubt about it, but it could be worse," Jones said. "We are concerned with the impact this will have on 107 local families who relied on the income from there and also the other businesses and their employees who will undoubtedly feel the effects of this closure. But at the same time we are given an opportunity to rise above this."
Work has already begun on locating a new tenant. Jones said he is in the process of contacting officials with the Mississippi Development Authority, Mississippi Power, site location consultants and firms who focus on distribution center industries to heavily market the location.
Jones is optimistic about the future of the site.
Jones said the 470,000-square-foot building is state of the art and is adjacent to an established railroad and interstate network that can reach 65 percent of the nation's population in one day.
"For the time they were here Handy Hardware was a good business partner but things didn't work out," Jones said. "We are committed to bringing in another business or industry."
Handy Hardware is a co-op company with 1,300 member dealers representing more than 2,000 store locations in 14 states across the Southeast. The Lauderdale County center was opened in November 2010.
Each employee has been given notice that they will be employed with the company for the next 60 days as operations wind down. White said employees may be able to transfer to a distribution center in Houston where the company is based.