Economic Outlook Good in Chambers
VALLEY — The past year-and-ahalf has been a very active period in the way of economic development for Chambers County. Since January 2016, over $180 million in capital investment and approximately 140 new jobs have been announced for the county.
Kimberly Carter, business retention specialist for the Chambers County Development Authority, talked about this at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis
Club of Valley. She was accompanied by Executive Director Valerie Gray and student intern Raven Brown to the meeting. Carter said there’s a very active work zone right now on the south side of LaFayette.
A solar power plant owned by Origis Energy of south Florida is being built on a 1,300-acre site. A 75-megawatt plant is being constructed to produce electricity on a contract basis for companies such as Walmart.
Other recent success stories include PSR Plastic Solutions, which is locating in the former Shaw Industries building in LaFayette, and Georgia Plating Company, which is now up and running in the Huguley Industrial Park. Close to 40 people are working at this site, producing nickel plating needed in automobile manufacturing. A couple of existing industries in the Chambers County Industrial Park at Cusseta have gone though major expansions in the last year-and-ahalf. Ajin USA has a new 150,000-square-foot addition and Great Lakes Metal Stamping has been expanded by around 45,000 square feet. WestRock is currently going through an expansion at its big plant in the Huguley Industrial Park. Knauf — the largest single building in Chambers County — is also looking at an expansion. There are continuing indications that Norbord is moving toward reopening its local production facility. They recently had a job fair at Valley Community Center. Carter said the CCDA is excited about the potential of a new 410-acre industrial park in the City of Valley.
The site was purchased by the city in February 2016 and this past February was granted an advantaged site designation by the state.
“There’s a lot of clearing and grubbing going on there right now,” she said. “The 50-acre site that fronts I-85 has potential commercial development.” In less than 10 years, the CCDA has steered a major economic turnaround for Chambers County. Things were very grim in February 2009 when Chambers County unemployment stood at a staggering 22 percent. At that time, the county was reeling from the final shutdown of local textile production.
Since then, close to 3,000 new jobs have been announced and unemployment has dropped to 3.9 percent; that’s better than the state rate of 5.4 percent and the national rate of 4.4. Chambers County led the nation in unemployment decline between 2009 and 2015. There was a reduction of more than 70 percent over that period. In the last 10 years, there’s been close to $800 million in capital investment in the county. Carter noted that local public schools have been a big beneficiary of this growth. Under state law, school taxes cannot be abated.
“Over the past 10 years,” said Carter, “Chambers County public schools have seen an additional $18 million in property tax and $3.9 million in sales and use tax.” Among the new businesses that have opened in the last year are Steak and Shake, Dairy Queen, Red Roof Inn and River Apartment Homes. A new business that’s heading toward a July ribbon cutting is Dunkin’ Donuts.
At the present time, the CCDA has 20 active projects, 16 of which are industrial prospects with two being in retail and two commercial.
“We have strategic planning meetings to discuss such topics as the new industrial park,” Carter said. “We think that five potential sites could be developed out of it.” The CCDA has had good success with a small business grant program. Now in its fourth year, it helps local small businesses with such aesthetics as store fronts, the kinds of improvements that help make the whole community look better.
A local committee has met four times with CCDA officials to discuss strategy in speeding up the cleanup of local mill sites. Chris Busby of the CCDA staff has been working to establish incubator businesses in the local area.
“He’s been doing a lot of work in finding the kinds of businesses that will be an ideal fit for our community,” Carter said. “We’re very proud of our executive director,” she added. “She has been chosen to participate in Leadership Alabama this year.”
Carter said that Chambers County has been spotlighted in multiple business magazines in recent months. A local committee is moving ahead in promoting a “Strength Woven In” branding campaign for the county. This initiative is being funded by a grant from Power South, the parent company of the Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative (TREC).
“We’re making great headway with our branding campaign,” Carter said. “Hopefully it will be bringing some recognition to our county.”
Thus far, the cities of Valley, Lanett and LaFayette have their Strength Woven In logos, as do the Chambers County and Lanett school systems, Bradshaw-Chambers County Library, and the towns of Cusseta and Waverly.
“We’re working with East Alabama and the Huguley Water Authority on this and trying to get our volunteer fire departments involved,” Carter said. “The Chambers County Commission has been very supportive of us. We’re excited about an opportunity to partner with Point University on this. Their students will be working on it for academic credit.”
– By Wayne Clark, Times-News News Editor