Like any good tale of American lore, it has featured perspectives on family, villainy, innocence, tradition, the downtrodden ... and yes, even heroism.
It is best left to our readers, and those who have followed the developing saga of Bradley County’s second-oldest company over the past six months, to decide which characters best fit which categories.
We have our thoughts. We’re sure others do as well.
And the loyal workforce of Hardwick Clothes? They are the true experts. They are the voices of experience. We know they breathe just a little easier now and we applaud them for their courage under fire.
And fiery this whole episode of uncertainty has been. The ups and downs of a proud, 134-year-old industry icon, and its fight to stay afloat in a sometimes merciless global economy, have kept many Bradley County families on the edge of their seats.
Because of its longevity as a successful Cleveland employer, Hardwick Clothes has enjoyed much of the same legend status as another local figure in generational hiring. We speak of the heart of blue collar that began as Dixie Foundry, and over the decades evolved into Dixie Products, the Magic Chef Company, Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products and now Whirlpool Cleveland Division.
The appliance maker’s lineage also includes familiar names like Hardwick Stove Company and Cleveland-Tennessee Enamel.
Hardwick Clothes and the downtown Cleveland stove plant that many old-timers still call “Magic Chef” — even after its 1986 merger with Maytag — have this in common: In this community, everybody knows somebody who works at either.
Whether it’s a brother, a sister, a cousin, a mom, a dad, an uncle, an aunt, a grandpop, a grandma, a best friend, a wife, a husband, a Sunday school teacher, a Little League parent, a part-time pastor, a small-engine repairman or an Avon saleslady ... everybody knows somebody who works at Hardwick Clothes or Magic Chef ... err, Whirlpool.
That’s why the hometown convictions of successful Cleveland businessman and philanthropist Allan Jones have meant so much to some who have very little.
In the eyes of Hardwick Clothes workers and their families, president Tommy Hopper and Jones have emerged modern-day heroes. Hopper holds this distinction because he refused to let the historic company die in spite of overwhelming financial odds. Jones has taken iconic status by reaching out to the underdog when others would not.
But what we like most about Jones’ mindset is his belief in the Hardwick Clothes employees.
Early in the developing storyline as Jones sought a path to acquire the struggling clothing manufacturer, he kept putting his faith in the workforce.
“The most important asset wasn’t on the balance sheet,” Jones said of the company’s ledgers. “It was them. We want to be real loyal to the employees because we need them.”
Truly, it is a refreshing attitude.
Too often we see major corporations cutting head count — not because employees are doing anything wrong and not necessarily due to profit margins, but because the sales numbers aren’t meeting the lofty expectations of Wall Street analysts.
Some call it capitalism. Others see it as greed.
We are not so naive as to believe from this point going forward all will be rosy for Hardwick Clothes. Even Hopper himself told our newspaper in Sunday’s edition the company still faces some hard decisions.
With such acquisitions in which a successful enterprise takes control of another that is floundering in debt, the first and foremost goal is sheer survival. The second step is turnaround through controlled costs and modest gains. The third is business expansion through innovation. If all three obstacles are hurdled, then the stage is set for marketplace re-emergence.
We agree with Hopper and Jones who believe potential is there. Jones believes a trend toward “American Made” is returning in clothes manufacturing. That is the business prospect on which he is hanging his hat. We hope he is right.
But in the meantime, we — like the Hardwick Clothes workforce that recently honored Hopper with a surprise barbecue dinner at the plant and Jones with a full-page ad in Sunday’s edition of our newspaper — thank both for their roles in righting a once powerful ship that was listing badly in a sea of misfortune.
Even now, nothing is given. There are no guarantees.
But at the very least, a hometown businessman has stepped up for a homegrown business.
The beneficiary is the Hardwick Clothes family — workers and their loved ones, business partners and suppliers; the winner is the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
Through business savvy, prayer and perhaps a little luck, it is our hope this “feel good” story will get even better as its next chapter unfolds.