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At Walmart Academy, Training Better Managers. But With a Better Future?

When Fulton’s Walmart Academy graduated its first class, the store presented the mayor with a gift. It was a brick pulled from the rubble of the Nestlé factory, which is being demolished 14 years after Nestlé left.

“A piece of Nestle History,” read the inscription on the brick. “Presented this day 25th of April 2017.”

Mr. Woodward, who is serving his third four-year term as mayor, appreciates Walmart’s training program but says it will take more to save his city’s economy.

“Anytime a company offers training, that is good,” Mr. Woodward said. “But they aren’t all going to run the store.”

Mr. Woodward, a former maintenance supervisor at Nestlé who made $89,000 a year, says he was one of the last two workers to leave the plant when it closed. His second-floor office in City Hall is like a time capsule, frozen in Fulton’s glorious industrial past.

There are black-and-white photos of a campaign banner for Theodore Roosevelt hanging over a downtown street, and of a long-gone horse racing track teeming with spectators in suits and bowler hats.

A few years ago, Fulton tried to restart chocolate production. A confectionery company, owned partly by a consortium of cocoa suppliers from Ivory Coast, revived the Nestlé property with help from the state. But the venture failed.

The site’s most recent owner stripped the factory of wiring to sell for scrap and walked away, the mayor said, leaving empty brick buildings behind.

From his office, Mr. Woodward, 68, talks on a flip phone and peers out over his glasses with eyes like an owl’s.

He is busy working to dredge a public lake that is choked by algae and closed to swimming at the height of another summer.

“I love this town,” Mr. Woodward said. “I will do anything to help it.”

That includes showing up one morning at the Walmart to attend the academy graduation.

Photo

The Walmart Academy graduation in Fulton in April. Mayor…

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