While there were no new major industrial announcements here in 2009, two industrial expansions announced earlier were completed this year.
And 2010 should get off to a good start, with an announcement expected soon concerning an industry locating at the former Advance Auto distribution building that would employ more than 100, Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden Etowah Industrial Development Authority, said.
Keystone Foods, which had announced last year it was building a new plant at Steele Station Road and Airport Road, began operating at its new location along with Southern Cold Storage this fall.
McCain said the new plant saved 520 jobs that had been at Keystone’s former location in the Gadsden Industrial Park off U.S. Highway 431 and will add 150 jobs.
Southern Cold Storage, which is adjacent to Keystone, invested $9 million in a distribution center and eventually will employ 40, McCain said.
“Keystone Foods has made tremendous advancements in operations here in Gadsden over the past year,” Maureen Garrity, a spokeswoman for Keystone, said.
“This fall, we transitioned our operations from a 20-year-old plant to a brand-new, $118 million, state-of-the-art, fully cooked further processing facility. The new facility has helped Keystone Foods increase our customer base, preserve jobs and position us for success in the long term in the marketplace and in the Gadsden community,” she said.
McCain said a $125 million expansion and modernization at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. was completed this year. When the project was started three years ago, it saved the plant’s approximately 1,300 jobs, he said.
McCain said the plant now employs 1,530.
Goodyear has committed to spend $600 million for modernization in union plants in the United States in the next four years but has not said where the money will be spent.
McCain said the task force that worked with the state and Goodyear concerning the Gadsden project has reconvened.
“We want to do everything in our power to persuade Goodyear that this is the place to spend a big chunk of that money,” McCain said.
He said officials already have talked to Goodyear, but declined to give any details.
“Efforts are under way,” McCain said.
As far as 2010, McCain said a company signed a long-term lease this month on the former Advance Auto Parts distribution center on Alabama Highway 77. He said details are being worked out for a formal announcement.
Finding a tenant for that building was an IDA goal for 2009, according to McCain.
He said two industrial prospect visits already have been scheduled for January. One is a manufacturer represented by a site-selection consultant and the other is a prospect considering the Rigid Building Systems facility.
McCain said the city of Gadsden’s efforts with grants and state and local funds to four-lane Airport Road and extend utilities to the Keystone property will make several hundred acres of property available for development.
The four-laning project should take about a year to complete and utility expansion should be completed soon, according to Frankie Davis, director of governmental affairs and economic development.
The four-laning and utility expansion cost about $5.5 million. The city will pay about half of the cost.
Davis said without the number of jobs saved and jobs added, the city would not have qualified for the grants.
He said the utility expansion will be able to handle additional industrial demand.
McCain said officials also talked to Keystone about uses of its old plant. He’s hoping for “positive developments” there in 2010.
He said getting an existing state enterprise zone at the Airport Industrial Park expanded to encompass about 500 acres, including the Keystone site and other property, will help in recruiting industry because additional incentives will be available.
McCain said the completion of the Career Technical Center at Gadsden City High School also will help in industry recruitment because a skilled work force is the primary reason a company picks a location.
The new facility will open Monday.
McCain said the high school technical program and training programs at Gadsden State Community College and the Alabama Technology Center are the “best tools I’ve got” for recruiting.
By Andy Powell
Times Staff Writer