NAFTA No More: A Recount of a Jackson Co. Economic Calamity

NAFTA No More: A Recount of a Jackson Co. Economic Calamity

By Dylan Smith, Managing Editor • (Photo by Dale Crawford)

USA — Last Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) into law, a sweeping replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

The signing of the new North American trade deal reforms guidelines for commerce relations between the three nations. During the signing ceremony, President Trump proclaimed, “We’re restoring America’s industrial might like never before.”

For many Jackson County citizens, this holds much significance due to the economic turmoil stemming from the implementation of NAFTA during the Clinton-era.

Eddie Gilbert, of Bryant, was among those who found themselves displaced in the labor market due to NAFTA. Gilbert was a supervisor at the Dover Mills plant of Andover Togs operated in Pisgah. 

Gilbert recalled being skeptical of NAFTA before it was signed into law, “Ross Perot said if it was passed that you would hear a huge sucking sound of jobs leaving. Sure enough, a few years later textile business in the southeast closed down and moved out of the country.”

Jackson County was home to five Andover Togs plants until the company relocated south of the border. 

Shortly thereafter, Gilbert sold his home and moved to Nashville, GA where he would manage Nashville Screen Plant. About two years later, the company fled to the Dominican Republic. Gilbert noted that three generations of families would typically work at the plant. 

“It’s a shame that’s what NAFTA brought when all those textile plants moved offshore. My wife worked there too so we both lost our jobs. The company closed without warning.”

Gilbert applauded the current administration’s economic reforms. “USMCA has got to be a lot better than NAFTA. All those people that worked for me at the time, middle-aged people, couldn’t find a job. Thanks to tax and regulatory cuts, manufacturing jobs are coming back.”

Allen Keller, Co-Owner of the Keller Lumber Company, offered praise of the deal from an industrial standpoint. 

“The terrible NAFTA trade deal implemented and overseen by our nation’s best and brightest, and responsible for the loss of seemingly countless manufacturing jobs, is now, mercifully, a thing of the past,” said Keller.

“It is unbelievable what this president has been able to accomplish, and this under nearly insurmountable odds. We have the highest hopes that the USMCA will be a boon to the American worker even as it is a great benefit to the U.S. manufacturer.”

Many laborers from Jackson County were employed by the once-booming sock mill industry in Fort Payne. The city was once known as the “Official Sock Capital of the World.” NAFTA paved the way for companies to flee the Mountain Lakes region and relocate to countries like Mexico for cheaper labor. 

President Trump has implemented much of his “America First” agenda, especially relating to the issue of the trade imbalance. The U.S. and China recently agreed to a ‘Phase One’ deal that evens the playing field for American farmers. This comes after years of trade deficits with the communist country. 

Many in Jackson County can recount the horrors NAFTA bestowed upon their livelihoods. The new trade agreement can’t erase the suffering that families were forced to endure, but it places a renewed commitment to the American industry and the American worker that will have a lasting economic impact for years to come.