VF Corporation honored for commitment to public health

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School of Public Health Dean Max Michael escorts an actress playing the role of Lou Wooster as part of the SOPH’s Lou Wooster Award festivities.

They could have rebuilt it anywhere. That was a recurring thought for School of Public Health Dean Max Michael, M.D., about the VF Corporation’s Hackleburg Distribution Center, a 446,000-square-foot factory that was obliterated in the tornadoes of April 27, 2011.

“VF Corporation is a huge, multinational business, and they could have made a decision to move their plant anywhere they wanted,” Michael says. “Instead, they made a decision to rebuild the factory in Hackleburg, and that ultimately will have a tremendously positive impact on the well-being of the community.”

Because of their decision to rebuild the plant — which was the factory of its largest employer, Wrangler — and all of the other benefits it provided to its workers and the community in the aftermath of the tornado, the School of Public Health presented its 2012 Lou Wooster Public Health Award to VF Corporation April 4. The award is named for a Birmingham madam who stayed in the city to help the sick when a cholera epidemic broke out in 1873. Wooster is considered a larger-than-life charismatic leader to whom many credit the survival of Birmingham as a city.

The award is given annually to people or businesses who spend their professional career outside of the health care or public health realm, but step out and beyond their normal activities to do something that improves the health of the public.

Michael says VF’s decision to rebuild the facility will provide more than economic well-being for its employees. He says it will strengthen the fabric of the community and assure its survival in a way that is critical to the long-term health and well-being of the townspeople.

“For generations to come, the Wrangler factory will be a powerful factor in the prevention of disease and disability in the population,” Michael says. “From a modern-day public health perspective, VF lives up to Lou Wooster’s tradition of service and brings honor to her memory. Like Wooster, VF has demonstrated boldness in vision and compassion.”

Tim Dye, vice president of distribution for VF, says the company’s long-time ties to Hackleburg were not going to go overlooked after the devastation.

“VF Corporation values its associates across our global company. We have been in the town of Hackleburg since 1966, and in that time we have built an extremely dedicated workforce with a passion for their work and a commitment to our company,” Dye says. “In the aftermath of the devastation last year, we were driven to support them with that same dedication.”

Indeed, VF continued the pay and benefits of its 150 staff members after the tornadoes and helped the community’s relief process by donating countless supplies in the aftermath.

Dye and other VF executives accepted their award on campus in an April 4 ceremony. While on campus, the executives made a presentation on crisis management to the public health and business students. In addition to addressing disaster-preparedness, the officials discussed supply, distribution and customer issues from a business perspective. They also told students how they readjusted their distribution channels to meet the needs of their clients.

“They really gave our students a valuable real-life example of how to successfully manage a public health and business crisis,” Michael says.

Michael and other School of Public Health officials watched as VF broke ground on its new facility April 26. The new plant is expected to be complete in 2013, and 50 additional jobs are expected to be added. The new facility also will include a safe room large enough for all of their employees to take cover should another tornado strike.