The current drop in economic development activity means “pent up” demand for industrial expansion in the future, Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority, told the Gadsden City Council last week.
And when that times comes, McCain told the council the IDA will be ready.
“When it hits, we’ll be 100 percent ready,” McCain said.
He said that includes a site here certified as being “shovel ready” for a firm looking for a site.
McCain told the council in a briefing that prospect activity has dropped off “dramatically.”
But he said IDA now is gathering a great deal of information about the area and potential industrial sites.
The information will be digitized and available on the IDA’s Web site for companies interested in expanding when the economy improves.
McCain said IDA is in the process of “totally revamping” its Web site and the work is being done in house.
He said most industrial prospects and site selection consultants do their initial screening via the Internet.
“We are committed to make it as easy as possible for them to see if we have what they want,” McCain said.
Council President Ben Reed said he was pleased with the way IDA is preparing for the end of the recession.
McCain said IDA has worked with the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, a statewide private economic development group, in the EDPA’s Advantage Site program.
As part of that program, all preliminary work on a site is certified as being completed, including wet land delineation, arch-
eological and cultural resource survey and assessment, endangered species clearance and other surveys including comprehensive information about utilities.
“It means it’s shovel ready,” McCain said, adding that companies will know they will not have to spend a great deal of time and money “to make a deal happen on that property.”
McCain said each site in the Advantage Site program will literally have information about a foot thick available for prospective industries to look at and evaluate.
A 31-acre site in the Airport Industrial Park has been approved to be part of the program, according to McCain, who said it is one of only seven sites in the state approved at this time. The IDA is working on additional property on Airport Road to be included in the Advantage Site program.
McCain said a trip to Gadsden by a prospective industrial prospect in February was canceled at the last minute because the economy was beginning to have a dramatic and unexpected impact on the company and expansion plans were being shelved for the time being.
But McCain said there is positive news. “We have two automotive related projects ready to initiate construction whenever the market will support it and justify it, and ultimately it will.”
Those projects, according to McCain, would represent between 75 and 100 new jobs.
He said one project is an expansion and the other would be a new firm locating here.
The IDA also is working with a jet engine repair and maintenance operation considering the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport in Gadsden as a location.
McCain said the authority also is working with a prospect for the Advance Auto building on Alabama Highway 77 and a visit is scheduled this month.
Along with the Gadsden Commercial Development Authority, the IDA is working on two customer call center operations that would mean “significant” employees.
McCain said the four-laning of Airport Road which will be bid this year is “absolutely critical” for the development of additional industrial property near the airport.
The four-laning is part of the incentive package for Keystone Foods expansion that, along with Southern Cold Storage, is expected to open this fall.
“Right now we’ve got more than one quarter of a billion dollars of industrial expansion projects under construction,” McCain said, referring to the Keystone Foods expansion project that will add 170 jobs and the expansion at Goodyear.
“Keystone Foods looks forward to the opening of our processing facility in September and the creation of additional jobs with the expansion of our operations,” said Tim Lawson, vice president of poultry operations for Keystone Foods. “We have worked in close cooperation with city, state and local officials to bring economic development to the Gadsden area, and we are glad to be a part of this community.”
The Goodyear expansion, while not adding additional jobs, will ensure the plant’s long-term viability.
By Andy Powell
Times Staff Writer