Hard-working volunteers keep the wheels turning at Terrell Industries
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
A handful of volunteers, motivated by the special needs of their children, pulled off a miracle 19 years ago when they pooled their energy and resources to establish Terrell lndustries. Three of those volunteers are Truman Bridges, Leon Key and Buck Strickland, all now retired but still active as members of the board of directors.
"We all had handicapped children who were approaching adulthood," recalled Bridges. "We realized that when they reached the age of 21, and would no longer be eligible to attend public school, they would have no place to go to work."
Key added, "The only option they had at that time was the Center for the Developmentally Disabled in Decatur. They required an evaluation, they had a long waiting list and there was no guarantee that you would be accepted."
"All of us were busy on our jobs," Bridges said, "so we enlisted our wives to do some of the legwork. They got together and made visits to Huntsville and Birmingham to check out sheltered workshops there and find out what we needed to do to get one started here."
"We started with about seven families," said Strickland. "We met at city hall, The Station and in a room at the civic center. Our first office was located downtown on Main Street."
"One of our first big hurdles was to get approval from the Department of Labor to employ individuals at an hourly rate less than minimum wage," he added. "After we took care of that, we hired Jim Waits as plant manager and started operations with 12 employees."
"We talked the city and county into letting us have two and one-half acres in the Hartselle-Morgan County Industrial Park and started making plans for a building," Bridges said. The county graded and leveled the site. "But we still needed $100,000 for the building.. That was a lot of money and I don't think many people believed we could raise that much."
"We held a lot of fundraisers and solicited donations from businesses, churches, community clubs and individuals," Strickland pointed out.
"We also offered the floor space in the building to donors for $25 per square foot and wound up with 344 donors," he added.
The building was started after $60,000 was raised. It was completed in February 1998 and has since been expanded twice. Shortly after construction, an addition was built to provide needed storage space and in 2002 the building was enlarged to provided addition working and storage space. The expansions were the result of grants. The first one was a 100 percent grant received from United Parcel Service. The second one was an 80-20 matching grant of $100,000 from the Alabama Department of Economic and Affairs. Today, the company has 74 employees and has six full-time staff members. In addition to adults, Terrell provides jobs for co-op students from Brewer and Hartselle High Schools.
"It has always been a struggle to keep the plant operating in the black," Strickland explained. "With the donations we receive from public and private donors and the money we make from fundraisers, we wouldn't be able to continue to operate."
"We do everything we can to keep the plant operating," he added. "We know if employees are laid off, they won't be able to find work anywhere else."
Bridges said the plant's most difficult time occurred in 1996 when the manager walked out. "We were in debt and didn't have the money to hire a replacement," he pointed out. "The three of us chose to split up the responsibilities and take on the job as full-time volunteers in an interim basis."
Key was the truck driver, Strickland, the bookkeeper and office manager, and Bridges, the production supervisor. They kept their jobs for three years.
"Thank goodness, that's over," Bridges said. "But we're still on the board of directors and we're still subject to call if something comes up and we're needed. Leon is a maintenance technician by trade and he'll usually get called on for help if something in the plant breaks down Buck helps out with financial matters and they use me for odds and ends from time to time."
Terrell employees are contracted by several industries to do basic assembly and packaging work. The current list includes Delphi, GE, Copeland, Home Industries, Defco, CGR, and Summitt. Other local companies that have contracted with Terrell for work recently include Bakers Industries and Russell Forest Products.
The recent trend among many industries to merge, consolidate and down-size has had a trickle down negative effect on Terrell and other small support industries, according to Linda Fuhldrodt, manager. "We are struggling now to get enough contracts to keep our people working," she pointed out.
"It's a problem meeting expenses," Strickland added. "We've got to find ways to produce more revenue."
Bridges, Key and Strickland all agreed that any personal sacrifice they've made to keep Terrell Industries going has been repaid many times over.
"Just to step inside the plant and see all of the smiling and happy faces is a real blessing to me," said Strickland.
"They take great pride in what they're doing," Bridges pointed out. "They'd much rather be here working than sitting around at home doing nothing."
"They're highly motivated" key added. "My daughter is one the job today even though she is recovering from breast cancer. I regret that I can't do more than what I do."
"They're wonderful," Fuhlrodt said of Bridges, Key and Strickland. "When something needs done, they're ready and willing to do it. We need more volunteers like them"