McCain: Industrial Recruitment Better Than Expected

Industrial recruitment for Etowah County in 2010 was better than expected, according to Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority, and he is optimistic about 2011.

Etowah County tied for second in the state in new industries, tied for fourth in new jobs announced and ranked fifth in total capital investment by new industries, McCain said.

The rankings were based on industrial announcements made through mid-November, according to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations.

Two new industries announced in 2010 that they would locate in the county. Fehrer Automotive, which will be housed in the former Advance Automotive distribution center and eventually will employ 170 people, represented a $14 million investment. United Casework purchased the former Custom Panel/Expressions Cabinetry building. It is beginning with 25 to 30 employees and eventually will employ 80 people.

Fehrer will produce automotive seating pads for the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., and for Mercedes-Benz in Vance. United Casework will produce flat-panel products.

One existing company, Prince Metal Stamping, announced a $25 million expansion that will create 30 jobs in the next three years.

While statistically and comparatively 2010 was a good year, McCain said, it was not a good year for those still unemployed.

“Statistics don’t mean much to someone without a paycheck,” McCain said.

The county’s unemployment rate fell from a high of 12.1 percent in January to 8.8 percent in November.

McCain retains his optimism for 2011 despite continuing national and international economic problems. He expects diminished prospect activity compared to past years but said he believes it will be stronger than 2010, “which should increase the number of opportunities we have to close deals.”

He said there is a smaller pool of potential projects because industry decision-makers have put projects on hold because of concerns about tax reform, regulatory reform and health-care reform, and their impact on businesses’ bottom line.

Those issues have not been resolved, McCain said, but there has been a “small uptick” in activity.

“Therefore, we believe 2011 will be a bit better than 2010, although not as good as years past, in overall prospect interest and activity,” he said.

McCain said the IDA is continuing to market the former Rigid Building Systems facility. Two offers were made on it last year but were turned down by the out-of-state bank that foreclosed on the property.

He said several other buildings are available for industry, but that also is the case for communities across the Southeast.

McCain expects most activity this year to come from businesses looking for deals on existing buildings because that is cheaper than new construction.

He also expects the trend of automotive-related industries locating in this area to continue.

McCain said IDA is going after projects that supply both Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz because Gadsden is halfway between the two plants.

By Andy Powell
Times Staff Writer