Etowah County gets $4.6 million state grant for megasite

Greg Bailey

Gadsden Times

Etowah County has scored another huge grant for its Northeast Alabama Regional Mega-Site.

County officials learned Monday that they’ll receive $4.6 million through the state’s new Site Evaluation and Economic Development Strategy Act.

That cash, combined with a $3.45 million local match from American Rescue Plan funds, will enable the county to fully connect water service to the 1,100-acre site and extend sewer lines within reach of doing the same.

The SEEDS program was established by the Legislature in 2023, as part of a package of economic development bills dubbed “The Game Plan” by Gov. Kay Ivey. It seeks to expedite the development of economic sites throughout Alabama.

“SEEDS represents an important tool that will allow us to keep winning those economic development projects that trigger lasting impacts for Alabama citizens,” Ivey said in a news release. “The awarding of the first grants under the program represents a milestone in our efforts to make sure Alabama remains competitive for game-changing growth projects.”

Etowah County received one of 29 development or site assessment grants issued in the first round of SEEDS funding, totaling $30.1 million.

“It shows that what we’re doing at the megasite is working,” Commissioner Craig Inzer Jr. said, “and that the state is now looking at us as a viable entity.”

The county has now received $13.3 million in state grants for the megasite, with $8.7 million coming from Norfolk Southern through the state’s Growing Alabama program, which gives companies that invest in qualified projects up to a 50% credit on their state tax liability.

That money has funded grading work to make a section of the site pad ready and prepared for rail access, the relocation of gas lines and for a new railroad crossing to an industrial access road from U.S. Highway 11; extending the pad size and remove trees from the pad area and from Interstate 59, and to connect Canoe Creek Road North and Wesson Lake Road; and the construction of an elevated 500-gallon water tank to facilitate tying into water and sewer service from Rainbow City, the county’s partner on the site.

The SEEDS funding will enable the county to run both water and sewer lines under Interstate 59 to Steele Station Road. Water service will be fully connected at that point; additional lines must be run to finalize sewer service.

“It won’t get everything,” said Shane Ellison, the county’s chief administrative officer, “but it goes a long way.”

Ellison and David Hooks, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority, collaborated on the grant application, and Hooks said state officials “seeing what the county is doing as far as moving the process forward” was the key to its success.

Hooks noted the limited number of megasites remaining in Alabama and the Southeast, and that Etowah County’s will now have water and sewer to go along with rail access and electrical power. He said he’s already encountering prospects to locate there.

Inzer said the forward movement shows that “what we’re doing out there is actually changing the process,changing the perception of Etowah County and changing what our site is.

“The megasite in the past might have been a sore subject,” he added, “but we’ve changed that narrative.”

Commissioner Johnny Grant praised past commissions for displaying foresight and ignoring naysayers who accused them of “pouring money into swamp land, and nothing would come of it.”

Commissioner Jamie Grant said it’s a matter of having a vision and working toward it.

“You can have a conversation and talk about it all day long,” he said, “but until you start moving forward and moving toward it, it means nothing.”

He said it’s also a positive that state officials can see Etowah County and the City of Gadsden “are on the same track and moving in the same direction.”