No word on Yale response

Jeremy Styron-News Herald

While the unemployment rate in Loudon County is the second lowest in the region behind Knox County, local officials could see an uptick in that figure after the recent announcement that Yale Locks & Hardware is closing its Lenoir City location.

According to the most recent data from the Tennessee Department of Labor in February, unemployment in Loudon was at 6.7 percent, which is fourth lowest in the state. Knox's jobless rate was at 6.1 percent.

About 230 jobs are affected by the March 30 announcement that Yale Locks is shutting down.
Loudon County Commission and Lenoir City Council recently voted unanimously to provide Yale Locks with a 10-year, 100 percent tax break, amounting to about $1,028,000, if the company would remain in the county.

Loudon County Economic Development Agency President Pat Phillips said Yale Locks has not made a decision regarding the municipalities' recent action.

"Nothing has changed," Phillips said. "We're still in conversation with the state, and right now we're working predominantly through our state representatives and state senator, but nothing has changed."

He recently met with representatives from the company, but any decision on keeping the plant in Lenoir City is out of the hands of the local manager.

"I think it's more beyond their control, and this is totally corporate," Phillips said.

Of the more than 200 employees at the plant, about 130-140 live in Loudon.

"It'll start drawing down if the plant continues as proposed by the company," Phillips said about the county unemployment rate. "It'll start probably in the (next) 60 to 90 days."

Yale Locks is not the only business to announce it was closing down. Save-A-Lot, located on Bon Street, shut its doors seemingly without notice, affecting residents in the immediate area who did not have transportation. Other tenants in the shopping center cited a leaky roof and problems with the landlord, The Heights Real Estate Company in New York City, as possible reasons behind the closure.
Jennifer Bara, manager at Dollar General, said she thought her store didn't have any plans of closing or relocating.

"As far as I know, we're staying; we're not going nowhere," Bara said, noting that her business has seen some decreased foot traffic because of Save-A-Lot's recent action.

"It's slowed down a little bit, but not much," she said.

Phillips said that he did not know how the unemployment rate would be affected after Yale Locks shuts down for good.

"You just don't know how the rate will actually flow," he said. "We hope the economy is picking up, and there are some signs of that, and there is some hiring occurring, but whether those positions will be picked up, we don't know. It's hard to tell. It'll certainly have an effect. It'll probably affect it negatively, but to what extent, it's too early to tell."

He said the county currently has four potential industrial prospects and if all of them came to the county, that could mean close to 1,000 new jobs.

"That's in an ideal environment where everything just fell in place, which is not likely, but it could," Phillips said.

The types of companies considering Loudon are of broad variety, but he could not reveal details about the prospects.

"We haven't had, up until the Yale announcement, any significant layoffs and no closures to speak of," Phillips said. "I think it plays into the whole regional issue of people going across county lines for employment. Fifty percent of the residents of Loudon County work outside the county, so what happens in Oak Ridge, what happens in Knoxville, Maryville, Alcoa and surrounding communities, all has a great impact on us and vice versa."