Added Freightliner shift will change things around plant for the better

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 13, 2012

By Mark Wineka
CLEVELAND — The four men eating lunch in the corner booth at CJ’s Barbecue and Country Cooking represented, for now, the entire Pre-Delivery Inspection department at the Freightliner truck plant.
But Thursday’s announcement that Daimler Trucks North America will re-establish a second shift in Cleveland and put 1,100 more people to work could definitely change things.
“More business for us, that’s for sure,” Donnie Cooper said. “We’ll have to hire, too.”
Cooper, Matt Parker and Todd and Lance Lybrand make up Hyperformance Graphics, a Hickory-based company that does all the decal work, affixing the names and logos of companies to new Freightliner trucks coming out of the Cleveland plant.
The men drive to and from Hickory every day and actually work within the plant’s confines, though Hyperformance is an independent contractor for Daimler.
Cooper estimates they put graphics on an average of 20 to 25 trucks a day. When three shifts were feeding PDI, the men said, they were finishing 60 to 100 trucks daily, but there were eight- to 10-man crews back then.
Maybe a second shift at the Freightliner plant means those kinds of days again, the men said.
Ready for work
It’s difficult to put into perspective Freightliner’s effect on the whole economy in Rowan County — and beyond.
Imagine the celebration if economic development officials landed a brand new company employing 1,100 people. That’s essentially what will happen at the Freightliner plant this year, except that there’s no waiting for the construction of a mammoth plant.
Many of the former employees being called back will be reabsorbed quickly.
Once again, they’ll have money to pay rent or mortgages and put food on the table. For some, the news has come at a time when their unemployment benefits have expired and their job prospects were slim.
“A lot of people had a hard time filling the gap,” RowanWorks Executive Director Robert Van Geons said.
Now, some houses will be saved from foreclosure. More people will have disposable income to spread through the local economy. And other companies that supply the Freightliner plant with components for the trucks will be hiring, too.
“It’s going to ripple up and down,” Van Geons predicted. “You can’t underestimate what it means to the total economy. It resonates around the region.”
When a facility is as big as the Freightliner plant and has employed as many people as it has through the years, most everybody knows someone who works there — or someone who has been laid off during the up-and-down-cycles of the industry.
“The Freightliner jobs touch every corner of Rowan County and outside of Rowan County as well,” said Chad Mitchell, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
He added that keeping people in jobs is a big deal to entire families.
“It’s our hope this isn’t our last announcement,” Mitchell said.
Good start
N.C. Rep. Fred Steen, R-Rowan, said anything that creates jobs in Rowan County and North Carolina as a whole represents a good day and a good start to recovery. State Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, and N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, also were part of the audience Thursday at Freightliner.
“I think this will be good news for the people who have been laid off in the past,” Steen said. “I think our workforce is ready to go.”
Dr. Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, said part of her school’s job will be to find ways to adjust schedules, allowing students returning to work at Freightliner to stay enrolled in classes. She called Thursday’s announcement “fabulous.”
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, said people in North Carolina are workers who want to contribute to their communities. Thursday’s news represents a celebration of the hardworking people on the shop floor, their managers and their ability to work together, Foxx said.
Tips for waitresses
Employees at CJ’s restaurant welcome the prospects of a second shift.
For waitresses Shonice Cuthbertson and Tonya Overcash, it could mean more tips — especially at night.
Overcash said her stepfather had worked 15 years for Freightliner and was laid off two years before being called back. “I think everybody has some kind of connection to Freightliner,” she said.
The restaurant’s manager, Gayle Weaver, used to work in the office at the Freightliner plant. She said faithful customers from the local community kept the restaurant in business during the recent slow years at Freightliner.
Weaver predicted business will see an uptick with the plant’s second shift coming back on line.
“We used to do a killer night business,” she said. “It won’t hurt us, for sure.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.