Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania
Retaining hundreds of jobs through disaster relief in Columbia County
  • Population
    12,711 in 2020
  • EDA Investment
    $15 million in 2013

More than 10 inches of rain fell over three days when Tropical Storm Lee hit the Susquehanna Valley in 2011.

Footprints and tire tracks in mud

In Autoneum’s Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, factory—a one-million-square-foot, turn-of-the-century building—water backed up through the sewer drains and poured in from outside, as the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek overflowed their banks.

Exterior of the Autoneum plant with floodwater surrounding the building

Employees raced all night to move inventory to higher floors and raise machinery above the water level—efforts that worked in past floods, but not this one. Over five feet of water flooded the first floor. And when it receded, everything was covered in mud.

Flooded staircase inside the Autoneum plant

Autoneum, an international company that makes carpets and floor systems for automotive manufacturers, is one of Columbia County’s largest employers. About 680 employees worked at the Bloomsburg plant in 2011, some of whom were second- or third-generation workers, some from surrounding townships.

“When you start to look at the longevity of these employees, it’s not just jobs, it’s careers. It’s a skilled workforce,” said David Witchey, chief clerk of Columbia County. “These are high-paying, living-wage, sustainable jobs.”

70 Million

Tropical Storm Lee not only cost Autoneum about $70 million in damages, it also risked holding up manufacturers down the line, a domino effect of lost production time. But Columbia County officials had concerns closer to home: if Autoneum decided that Bloomsburg were too risky a location, the region would lose a critical employer.

An Autoneum employee points to where the floodwater rose nearly above his head
Floodwater rising to the edge of a loading dock
The Autoneum plant exterior without floodwater

“All it takes is one flood to make it easy for these companies to decide, ‘Hey, maybe it’s easier to go someplace else’”

–David Witchey

To protect against flooding, Columbia County applied for an EDA grant to build a mile-long, 16-foot-high flood wall. The project received $15 million from EDA, as well as funding from Autoneum and the State of Pennsylvania. The flood wall system, which was finished in 2016, was the county’s largest public works project.

A crane lifts a panel of floodwall into place

“It preserved the long-term viability of this facility,” said Jim Nemeth, Autoneum’s human resources director for North American operations. “Without the EDA funding, there’s no way [the flood wall] would have happened.”

A view of the finished floodwall

What’s more, Columbia County was able to use the flood wall’s success as a springboard to secure funding for a 4,000-foot expansion that protects homes, businesses, and a school.

Construction workers finishing the floodgate
At the river's edge, with thick trees and vegetation on the far bank

On December 25, 2020, the Susquehanna River was predicted to flood again, fed by rain and melting snowpack. The day before, the flood brigade checked that the gates in the flood wall were closed, the stop logs were placed, the pumps were working, and everything was sealed tight. Although the waters didn’t rise as much as anticipated that Christmas Day, the flood wall’s defense provided welcome reassurance.


Images (in order of appearance):

  • Image courtesy of John Oast
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Kristoffer Tripplaar / Alamy Stock Photo
  • Bilanol/Shutterstock
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum
  • Image courtesy of Autoneum