CHEROKEE, Ala. — In the summer of 2020, FreightCar America announced it would be closing its Cherokee manufacturing facility.
Layoffs began in November of that year and continued through this past February. Colbert County Leaders said the closure came as a surprise.
Shoals Economic Development Authority President Kevin Jackson said the layoffs affected hundreds of workers.
“At the time they closed, they had a little less than 500 employees,” Jackson said. “Of course, it was a gradual decrease until they finally vacated the facility by March.”
With new businesses opening in The Shoals, Jackson said there were options for those workers to find jobs.
“I know DURA Automotive in Muscle Shoals did hire a lot of the FreightCar people and they continue to interview some of those,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of those people, especially in some of the salaried positions, were able to find other comparable positions so they were able to get back to work pretty quickly.”
As for FreightCar America, Jackson was a bit taken aback after learning of a ProPublica report that said the facility closed and moved production to Mexico after receiving a $10 million Paycheck Protection Program loan.
“We feel like the intent of that program was to help businesses stay open and stay in the United States and we feel that they did not do that,” Jackson said. “We definitely hope that the federal government does go after them for at least a portion of those funds.”
After closing its Roanoke, Virginia location in 2019, the Cherokee facility was the last FreightCar America plant in the United States, however, the headquarters remains in Chicago.
Jackson said the vacant Cherokee facility is the premiere available industrial building in the United States and the Shoals Economic Development Authority is doing everything it can to find a suitable tenant.