Nearly two years after Cooper Tire shut down its Dougherty County plant, Economic Development Commission leaders say interest in the factory is picking up.
EDC Chairman Jay Smith says the number of prospective companies looking at the Cooper plant has increased in recent months. Smith is a Georgia Power district supervisor and says his company is seeing a huge increase in the number of corporations looking to expand in Georgia.
"They see that there is going to be increased demand for these products. And I think that they are trying to see what's out there. Hopefully we can locate some of them here," he said.
Cooper Tire still owns the Dougherty County plant and is using part of the building for storage as they try to sell the property.
Almost 1,400 South Georgia employees were laid off when Cooper Tire, one of the area's top five employers, shut down.
Many of those workers were left wondering what to do. Some of them are about to graduate from Darton College with new degrees.
After ten years at Cooper, Tim Dean was laid off on his 36th birthday; the second time he had been laid off from manufacturing jobs.
"Personally for me it's going to be one of the best things to happen to me. It's going to force me to get out and do something I really wanted to do. That's better my education," Dean said.
Dean will graduate this year with his Physical Therapy degree.
Nick Hilton was laid off by Cooper after 17 years. Next month he will graduate with a nursing degree. "It's by far the hardest thing I have ever tried to do, but I believe I can do it," Hilton said.
Dean, Hilton, and Kelvin Polite decided after being laid off not to look for another manufacturing job, but to return to college and a more secure career path. Polite will graduate this year in Physical Therapy.
"The medical field from what I'm hearing and seeing, it's not going anywhere. I think it's getting better, especially physical therapy," Polite said.
All three men and their families have struggled financially to reach this milestone, and say that Cooper layoff was a driving factor in their decision to find a more stable profession.
"Our story is being played out everyday all over the United States. And I just didn't want to have to go through that again," Hilton said.
These soon to be graduates admit they are very proud of what they have accomplished in the two years since Cooper's shutdown, and feel confident they have a bright future ahead.
The three former Cooper employees say they run into other former co-workers often, at the Labor Department unemployment office. They say some of the former Cooper employees have been laid off once or twice more from other jobs.
All three of those men used federally-funded unemployment programs to pay for college.
They're all confident they'll have multiple job opportunities waiting for them when they graduate.
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