Recent days have been all about unified efforts for the Etowah County Commission.
Commissioner Jeffery Washington’s Unity Tree lighting Monday night was the fun side, bringing together a lot of Etowah County officials, representatives from Gadsden and Hokes Bluff city governments and the Gadsden City High School Titan Band to share music, hot chocolate and Christmas lights at the courthouse.
And the next morning, the commission announced plans to unite with the City of Gadsden for an essential function: industrial recruitment, especially to the county’s Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site.
The county announced plans to contract with the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority for industrial recruitment efforts.
The commission plans to approve a contract next week to pay $150,000 per year; the county also will appoint two members to the authority’s 15-member board.
It’s a one-year contract effective in January, renewable for three years.
“This is a good partnership for Gadsden and Etowah County,” Commission President Johnny Grant said. “We appreciate the new administration for seeing how this could be a win-win situation, and we look forward to major announcements coming soon.”
Alabama Power Company representatives Terry Smiley, Spencer Williams and Jacki Lowry were present at Tuesday’s work session when the announcement was made. Representatives of Norfolk Southern and Goodwyn, Mills, Cawood architecture/engineering firm are expected to attend next week’s commission meeting.
The three companies have worked with the commission to ensure that the mega-site property is ready for industrial prospects in terms of power supply, rail access and infrastructure.
Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford was present as well and welcomed the collaboration. He said in running for mayor, he wanted to bring unity to the county.
“It’s important for recruiting industry,” he said, recalling that while he served in the Legislature, he saw Montgomery city and county officials work together to land a manufacturer. “They were in lock-step,” he recalled.
The City of Gadsden has been the sole source of funding for the IDA, providing its $400,000 budget for years. The additional funds from the county should enable the authority’s efforts to increase, Director David Hooks said.
Commission member Craig Inzer Jr. said it has taken four years of work to establish a unified recruitment effort. He recalled that for a time, the county had its own industrial developer, working to bring prospects to the mega-site. When she retired, it gave the county an opportunity make a change, but there were “hiccups,” he said, during the last few years.
When Gadsden’s new mayor was elected, Inzer said he went in and said, “I’m not asking, I’m telling you, this is what we’re going to do.
“To me, it’s the right step, in the right direction, at the right time,” he said.
Hooks joked that the agreement would double his responsibilities. Etowah County Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison said during the time the county was without an industrial recruiter, Hooks had provided any information they needed to answer inquiries about the mega-site.
Hooks said marketing the mega-site along with other sites will bring attention from across the globe to Etowah County. Not all industrial prospects are going to need an 1,000-acre site like the mega-site, he said, but it will show industries what the Gadsden/Etowah County area has to offer — its workforce, its transportation and location.
“They’ll keep us in the mix,” Hooks said, when they look for sites.