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Businesses worried

Intermet Ironton Iron’s departure from the city will affect more than hundreds of workers.

Friday, December 10, 1999

Intermet Ironton Iron’s departure from the city will affect more than hundreds of workers.

When an employer of this size leaves an area, the aftermath can ruin a city, especially one of Ironton’s size and recent history, said Lou Pyles, Ironton Business Association co-president.

"This is going to be true devastation for this town," Mrs. Pyles said. "I feel so bad for the people who work there with the holiday season. This is going to be very bad for our town. And it’s going to affect everyone. There will be a trickle down effect."

That effect could cause some changes at Tipton’s Foodland and Bakery, owner Tommy Tipton said.

"We need people working," Tipton said. "It’s the only way we can survive. Empty buildings can’t keep a Tipton’s in business."

The belief that grocery stores are untouchable is a myth, Tipton added.

"It’s not just groceries today," he said. "You have to be able to survive. There’s a new Super Kroger that’s going to be built on U.S. 23, and a Save-A-Lot downtown. You have a lot of selling area added, but the population has shrunk. Sooner or later, this thing reaches out. We’ll have to make adjustments because those dollars won’t be there."

The first ones hit, however, will be those businesses surrounding the Ironton plant, said Gene Bragg, owner of Bragg’s Inc.

"Ironton Iron, it’s probably half of my business," Bragg said. "It’s everything – gas, cigarettes, a lot of food. I’m just trying to think of some things to do to offset this. They’re not going to stop for that pack of cigarettes, or bottle of pop anymore, they’re going to do without."

Mrs. Pyles knows from personal experience how hard it is when a plant of Ironton Iron’s size shuts down. Her husband, Brent, lost his job there during a 1984 closure.

"It was very devastating," she said. "You wonder what you’re going to do, because you live here and you have your home and family here. What are you going to do – pick up, sell your home and move away?"

Although it took nine months, Mrs. Pyles’ husband found another job in West Virginia, and she said she’s glad they were able to stay in the city instead of moving elsewhere.

"There are so many that have moved from our area," Mrs. Pyles said. "It’s hard for someone to find another job. A lot of people move away, and that’s what hurts our town."

Hopefully, the hundreds of displaced workers will not have to leave with the closing of this chapter in Ironton’s history.

Ironton was founded on iron, and that era might have ended. But a new era could be just around the corner, Mrs. Pyles said.

"If this is the end and they say it is, we have to look for a new form of an era for this town," Mrs. Pyles said. "A new life has to be made. And it has to be something that’s looked into immediately. It’s nothing that we can put off. We have to jump on something and get going. If it’s for a new industry that has nothing to do with iron, that’s what we have to do. We have to save our families and their lives in this town."

And it’s up to the city and county officials to lead us into the next millennium with hope for the future, Tipton said.

"The responsibility falls back on our leaders, the people who have the contacts nationally and statewide," Tipton said. "They are the ones that have to go out and do this. Something needs to be done in Ironton. We’re a part of Lawrence County. I think if we’re going to come back from this, well, then Ironton has to be concentrated on because what happens in Ironton affects all of Lawrence County."

And the people need to know how the county will turn this trend around, Tipton added.

"This community needs to know if there are any possibilities – and if there aren’t – what are we doing about it," he said. "We need some hard questions and answers about Ironton and its economic situation answered."

Although realistic about the situation, Tipton does admit that he is optimistic. In his heart of hearts, Tipton knows that Ironton will find its way back from this setback.

"We’ve been here, and done that," Tipton said. "We still have to remain optimistic. We just have to keep right on going and we’ll conquer it."

Bob Clyse feels the same way. Although those who have lost their jobs will not be looking to purchase a new motor vehicle from his lot at Bob Clyse Oldsmobile-GMC-Pontiac anytime soon, Clyse says he will not give up on his hometown.

"In the short term, there will be some effect on business," Clyse said. "But I’m optimistic on the whole Tri-State area in the long run. Ironton’s been very resilient with economic problems we’ve had in the past. And I’m sure the community will weather the storm again."

Ironton is a long way from being considered a ghost town, Mrs. Pyles added.

"I’m so for Ironton," she said. "I want to see this town grow and turn around and really become a flourishing town. But something needs to be done to invite businesses to our town. You have to grow. You have to have businesses in this town of any kind for it to grow. We really need people out there trying to sell our town and community, so these people losing their jobs in two months won’t have to move away."