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Rural Development

How the Hackleburg Wrangler plant got a second life after deadly April 27, 2011 tornado

HACKLEBURG, Alabama – Inside the Wrangler distribution center in this Marion County community, a conveyer system two miles long carries cartons of jeans along a twisting path through the gleaming new facility that has risen from the rubble of April 27, 2011.

Manager Wade Hagedorn walks through the 369,000-square-foot center as workers wearing radio frequency scanners on their wrists place garments in boxes for shipment to destinations throughout the Southeast and beyond. The state-of-the-art facility is a model of efficiency, capable of handling 27 million pairs of jeans a year.

In Hackleburg, the building is also a symbol of regeneration. On that April day three years ago, the deadliest tornado in Alabama history flattened the distribution center that Wrangler had operated on a hilltop here since 1981. Hagedorn and 13 co-workers had taken shelter inside when the EF-5 twister struck, killing one employee and leaving little of the structure standing.

DCOM-Ag-SnipeThe devastation raised doubts about the facility’s future. Rebuilding the center was not a given for parent company VF Corp., which launched an economic analysis on whether to replace the building or shift its operations elsewhere. Hackleburg, ravaged by the storm that killed 19 residents and wiped out more than 20 of its 32 businesses, held its breath over the fate of its largest employer.

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