Local projects near $1 billion investment
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A Monday, December 21, Atmore Industrial Development Board meeting started out as a discussion of a proposed convenience store-restaurant-gas station at Rivercane. It ended up with the realization that the new business is the latest component in an unprecedented rash of economic development projects.
The meeting was attended in person by Mayor Jim Staff, Centerfire Economic CEO Jess Nicholas and AIDB members Bob Jones, Dr. Ulysses McBride and Richard Maxwell, the board’s chair. AIDB members Jim Johnson and Sheilo Faircloth attended by teleconference.
After the board voted 4-0, with Maxwell abstaining, to recommend the sale to owners of the proposed business of a 2.7-acre lot in Rivercane, at the junction of Alabama 21 and Innovation Parkway, talk got around to the new peanut mill that is being built here.
From there, it expanded to the various high-dollar projects either under way or on the drawing board.
Nicholas said the peanut processing plant would draw several “spinoff” businesses that would locate here to serve the new facility.
“We have a trucking company that has expressed interest in coming here,” said Nicholas, who handles economic development for the city and county. “There’s another spinoff business looking to take some of the refuse from the peanut shelling process and do something with that. There are a lot of potential supply chains that could come from that.”
Jones noted that the growth in business and industrial development is “catalytic,” creating newer businesses as new businesses are created.
Nicholas said the number of new jobs that have been or will be created was mind-boggling.
“There are as many jobs floating around out there from spinoffs as there are from the facility itself,” he noted of the peanut mill, which is expected to employ 150 people when it comes into full operation.
Jones then pointed out that the area was in the midst of a record-setting revolution in economic development.
“If you aggregate all this, the ones that have committed, we have never had, in the history of this area, this much,” he said.
Nicholas said the new “super prison” to be built on the northern outskirts of Atmore will bring an increase of between 450 and 800 new jobs in itself. He estimated that the trucking company would bring 100 new jobs, “minimum,” and pointed out that the total number of anticipated new jobs is “punching toward 700.”
Besides the prison and the peanut mill and the spinoff businesses it will create, major projects include the new Urgent Care facility, the expansion of Coastal Alabama Community College, the construction of a new Jack’s restaurant. There are also several other businesses, including two more restaurants, that are in the works.
Jones marveled that such a spurt in local economic growth has never before been realized within the same period.
“In a year of bad stuff, this growth is unprecedented, the job creation and capital investment,” he said. “You can talk about all the bad stuff in 2020, but when you aggregate the jobs and capital investment in this area … And it covers such a broad spectrum of jobs. You’ve got logistics, basic industry, transportation, technology and healthcare.”
Maxwell noted that, “In the past, it’s all been hospitality and fast food. This covers the whole skill range.”
Nicholas agreed that the area has become a hotbed of economic development.
“Nobody’s doing what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s been a pretty exciting year; we’ve been very fortunate.”
He pointed out that the non-prison projects represented at least $250 million in capital investment, adding that developers of the new, privately run prison would spend roughly $350 million in purchasing land, construction and other expenditures.
“You’ve got that capital investment, and we’re talking as many as 1,500 new jobs,” he said. “In this time of economic challenges and disruption, that is really something.”