â€œOver 5,000 new jobs announced and countingâ€?
partnership for Tomorrow
Charting Success Together
An Initiative of the St. Clair County Economic Development Council
CREATING JOBS Since 2000, St. Clair Economic Development Council saw these projects come to fruition for St. Clair County: COMMUNITY • Jefferson State Community College • New County Hospital • New VA Nursing Home COMMERICAL • Village at Moody • Home Depot • Cracker Barrel • Springville Station • Tractor Supply • Margaret Commercial Development • Love’s Travel Center - I-59 • Jack’s • Publix • Town and Country • Burkes/Goody’s • Valero Travel Center • Love’s Travel Center - I-20 INDUSTRIAL • Industrial Galvanizers of Birmingham • Benjamin Moore • Honda Temporary Office • Jones Stephens Corporation • National Cement • Duraweld, Inc. • Energy Absorption Systems • Nissin International • Preferred Sourcing • Royal Foods • Safety Wear • Sumitomo • Southern Monopole and Utilities Co. • Yachiyo Manufacturing of Alabama • Exotic Foods • TNT Logistics • Eissmann GMbH • EMJ Metals • Kelcraft Finish Solutions • Jenkins Brick • Trinity Glass • Natural Science Center • AFCO • NASCO/Moody Commerce Park2 • Red Diamond • CMC Impact Metals • Jim Bishop Cabinets • Outback Welding • Southern Rack & Fab • VST Keller • WKW • Rain Bird • Leeds Stain Glass • Indie Candy • Nufab Rebar • MailSouth • Project Colossus • Phoenix Energy
Story behind the story:
St. Clair County economic growth is no accident
Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin There is good reason St. Clair County is among the fastest growing counties in Alabama. Actually, there is an abundance of them. If you look at economic indicators — new jobs, increased wages and new investment by new or expanding business — the numbers head in a significant upward direction coinciding with the creation of the St. Clair County Economic Development Council. Rather than cities working alone or competing against one another as they had in the past, it was the first countywide economic development push, bringing all municipalities together toward a single goal: Grow St. Clair County. What it meant in real terms was that what was good for one was good for all, say proponents of the plan. That was 1998. In 2013, the numbers speak for themselves. More than 5,500 jobs have been created. New paychecks total more than $100 million. And new investment is approaching the $1 billion mark. EDC Executive Director Don Smith has successfully built upon the foundations laid by predecessors Ed Gardner Sr. and Ed Gardner Jr., and he and Retail and Marketing Specialist Candice Hill, along with the rest of the EDC staff, are crafting quite a success story of their own. It centers on goals and outcomes. The EDC continually sets its sights on improving the economic picture and hence, the quality of life for St. Clair County citizens. Strategic planning and strategic thinking are key components of the equation, bringing the public and business sectors into a collaboration with the Council to develop specific goals. Fresh off meeting all of its goals in 2011, EDC developed a new set for 2012-2014. It is on track to meet those in two years, not three. And officials are conducting strategic planning sessions this month that will help determine the Council’s immediate future course with a new set of goals to move the county forward. In the 2012-2014 goals, the EDC hoped to announce $100 million in new capital investment by the end of 2014. Capital investment of $98.4 million since 2011 already puts EDC at 98.4 percent of that goal, which should be surpassed by the end of the year. Others completed more than a year early were the announcements of $20 million in additional payroll from new jobs created and more than double its goal of $1 million in additional tax revenue for schools at $2.4 million. “We have had success in being good stewards of the funds the people have given us,” said Smith. “We hope because of that, we will get support from business leaders and the public sector once again” as a new capital campaign launches this summer on the heels of goals set by strategic planning. It will be an opportunity for partners — businesses, organizations and individuals — to play a pivotal role in where St. Clair County
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heads from here. The monetary goal is to raise $1 million from the private sector over the next five years to help bring new objectives for enhancing the county’s economic prospects to fruition. And surveys for public input are on the website at stclairedc.com and on Facebook. Called Partnership for Tomorrow, the capital campaign is as the name implies — a coming together of all entities with an eye toward a better future. Smith calls it “staying true to what you’re really good at.” Gardner Sr. brought in grants, federal funding for projects and capitalized on a strong state background as the former director of Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to put the county on strong footing. Gardner Jr. expanded from industrial recruitment to workforce development, retail development and leadership development. And Smith brings all those strengths together to build a comprehensive plan for the future for St. Clair County. They are constantly challenged and motivated by what they describe as a “visionary” board with Tommy Bowers as chairman and members Lyman Lovejoy, Dana Webb, Drew Goolsby and Joe Kelly. “They have a tremendous amount of expertise in a number of fields. They know
the area and the people of the area, and they have a tremendous vision of what St. Clair County should look like in the years to come,” Smith said. The county commission has played an integral role in it all. “We wouldn’t be here without the foresight and cooperation the county commission has shown over the years,” Smith noted. And the “consistency of leadership where everybody is on the same page has been key,” Hill added. “They have stayed on the same page for quite some time.” What all of those variables have added up to is a positive economic impact on areas of the county, both large and small, a boon to education coffers, more jobs, more investment and more opportunities for all of its citizens. Young people no longer have to look for careers in larger areas. Ample opportunities are not only right here at home, they are growing. Hill pointed out that the mission statement is “ ‘To create jobs, increase wealth and improve the quality of life for St. Clair County citizens.’ Definitely a lot of projects have fallen under that umbrella — more than anybody ever imagined.”
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Nufab Rebar Riverside
on map with new industry
Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin Look to a formerly vacant piece of property nestled between Interstate 20 and US 78 in Riverside and see the future going up. It is the site of Nufab Rebar, a new industry that will become the city’s largest employer. “What a day for Riverside,” Mayor Rusty Jessup proclaimed in a groundbreaking ceremony in July with Gov. Robert Bentley attending to show its importance not only to the city, but to the region and state as well. The concrete reinforcement manufacturer, a subsidiary of Nucor Steel, will add 80 jobs to the economy and represents a $7 million investment. It took two years for the project to come to fruition, but the city, the county and the St. Clair County Economic Development Council “worked so hard,” Jessup said. “We kept on and made it happen. It says a lot about us, and it says a lot about them.” It also says plenty about the future for Riverside and the teamwork involved in this deal. County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon named key players like the Birmingham Business Alliance and the EDC and the cooperation it took to get that first shovelful of dirt moving. “We learned a lesson of keeping everybody together.” Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh touched on the cooperative effort in his remarks, noting that as he looked out over the audience assembled for the groundbreaking, he saw mayors from across the county and across the county line in attendance. “You don’t see that in other areas.” And Gov. Bentley put it in perspective in response to the notion that governors don’t attend groundbreakings for fewer than 100 jobs. “One hundred jobs in a town of 3,000 is just as significant as 5,000 in Mobile or Birmingham,” he said. “Jobs should be the number-one goal. We work together in Alabama. We’re united.” Dennis Swinney, who is the manager of the new Riverside plant, said the decision to relocate “felt like home. The people we work with here have really been fantastic,” he said, singling out EDC Executive Director Don Smith, contractor Jason Goodgame and Mayor Jessup. “I’m happy we are going to make Riverside our home.” Company President Dave Camozzi echoed the sentiment. “We are dedicated to growing this business here.” That sentiment isn’t lost on Kelley Taft, owner of The Kelley Group, the City of Riverside’s engineering and grantwriting firm. “Riverside is a small, yet multifaceted community, a diamond in the rough if you will, with great leaders and the prime geographic location for development,” she said. “The Nufab project in Riverside is a solid example of how hard work and strong partnerships unite to create economic development for a small town.” Nor is the impact lost on Mayor Jessup. “Small towns across America are struggling financially because of the demands of the public and the costs of public safety and public roads. They just can’t match up.
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Gov. Robert Bentley pinpoints Riverside for Manager Dennis Swinney, Company President Dave Carmozzi and Mayor Rusty Jessup.
Partnership for Tomorrow â€˘ St. Clair County Economic Development Council â€˘ 5
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Mayor Rusty Jessup “The only way small towns of the future will survive is through economic development — getting an industry with the impact we think Nufab will have.” Nucor, the parent company, “has a great reputation of being a good corporate citizen. During this process, we discovered that to be the truth. They were very particular about the impact they would have on our town and area, and they went out of their way to make sure they did things right.” There was no cutting of corners when it came to safety, the mayor said, and every step of the way, company officials demonstrated “they wanted to be a part of this community, not just in it.” Because of Nufab’s decision, “this administration feels the future is much brighter for Riverside. We have had three years of gut-wrenching budget decisions, cutbacks, layoffs. In turn, that created problems with our citizens because we were unable to deliver all the services they wanted.” But Riverside is already seeing a turnaround Jessup attributes to Nufab and the construction process. Third quarter numbers are showing an increase in sales tax. “There’s a lot of commerce going in and out of town,” he said. “We’ve already hired more people in the water and street department and one in administration. These are the types of things a company like Nufab Rebar can do for a small town.” Nufab, which should open in March 2013, is the largest economic development project in the history of Riverside. The $1 million industry access grant it received is the highest in the city’s history and will go toward expanding US 78 to three lanes and giving greater accessibility to the plant. When the construction dust settles, Jessup said, the project will be a total investment in Riverside of $10 million by all entities. “Positive things happen when you inject that kind of money in a community the size of Riverside.”
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By the Numbers Honda’s Impact In St. Clair County
• 1,000+ associates live in St. Clair County • Annual payroll for these associates tops $33 million • In 2012, Honda spent more than $323 million with businesses based in St. Clair County, ranging from Yachiyo and Southern Rack & Fab to Goodgame Company and Johnny’s Electric.
Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin Like a perfectly tuned race car darting toward the checkered flag, St. Clair County’s economy roared in 2012 thanks to the automobile industry that propelled it. “It led the charge,” said Don Smith, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Council. Four out of six expansions were on the automobile end. It created hundreds of new jobs and bolstered corporate investments by dollars measured not in millions, but in tens of millions. Inside the county, Steele’s Yachiyo, a Tier 1 supplier of parts for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama’s nearby Lincoln plant, is in the midst of its second expansion in 12 months. The newest addition increases the company’s capacity to handle parts for the Acura MDX line being built at Honda. This year, HMA will add production of the luxury sport utility vehicle and increase annual production capacity to more than 340,000 vehicles and engines. Since the beginning of 2012 and into the next 12 months, Yachiyo is adding 100 employees and upping its investment by $30 million. In early January, employment stood at about 250 and will “get close to the 280 mark,” Smith said. At WKW in Pell City, which provides components for Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW, growth has gone from drawing plans to reality. When the German-based company located in Pell City, officials were hoping to get to the 300-mark in employment. With recent expansions, that employment roster topped 600. “They have grown and increased business to a much larger scale than anyone imagined,” Smith said. Eissmann, another German company calling Pell City home, doubled the size of its facility over the past 12 months to increase its ability to manufacture high-end leather components for the automobile industry with its leading customers like Mercedes. Honda suppliers located in the county are thriving as well. Moody’s Suitomo provides wiring harnesses for a growing Honda. Ipak in Pell City produces bags in which Honda parts are shipped. And Southern Rack and Fab, also in Pell City, manufactures racks for Honda. There is no mistaking the impact of Honda on St. Clair County even though it is located in a neighboring county, Smith noted. While WKW is the largest private employer located inside St. Clair’s borders, Honda is “by far, the largest private employer of St. Clair County citizens. Honda has definitely been — no doubt — the engine of growth for the southeast
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portion of St. Clair County.” And that kinship between company and neighboring county has a long history. “Honda Manufacturing of Alabama has a special relationship with St. Clair County,” said Mark Morrison, manager of HMA’s Corporate Affairs and Communication. “In 1999, Honda announced it would build a plant in Alabama. It was wasn’t long after that before we opened up our first office in the state in Pell City in the former GTE building. Before we moved to our plant in July 2001, we had more than 200 people working out of the Pell City office.” Honda’s employment numbers surpass more than half the populations of St. Clair County’s municipalities. “It’s like a little city over there,” Smith said. And like a neighbor any county gladly welcomes, it has created additional wealth and additional jobs by producing more than 2.6 million vehicles and engines since 2001. Suppliers aren’t the only beneficiaries of this good neighbor. Local contractors, like Pell City-based Goodgame Company, have been doing business at Honda for more than a decade in addition to building for its suppliers. “There is no question Honda has had a huge impact on this county,” Goodgame said, pointing out the number of second- and third-tier suppliers that have “grown our business.” In addition, Goodgame has been onsite at Honda doing work all 13 years of its Alabama existence. Situated just a few miles away from the plant, Pell City has been able to take advantage of its location from a retail standpoint with new avenues opening up. Publix grocery store and a new strip mall with Goody’s and Burke’s Outlet are among retailers now on the economic landscape. St. Clair County’s melting pot of auto-related industries has
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put the county on an international map of where to do business, Smith said. “St. Clair County has a reputation in the Southeast as a great place to do business.” For example, “When a German supplier is looking at Alabama, St. Clair County is usually in the discussion.” The auto industry has been “good for business,” Goodgame added. “Across the board, it has significantly increased our footprint in the last decade. He listed WKW, Eissmann, Orlikon and Nissin Energy Logistics as other projects on which Goodgame Company has worked. Building strong multi-cultural relationships with these Japanese and German-based companies is key. “We’re building trust, and they are coming to us when they need something. And because of that strong foundation, St. Clair’s prominence in the auto industry arena is the catalyst for a stronger economy overall. “Not only are their parts going into products sold in the U.S., but internationally,” Smith said. “Those jobs typically have higher skill sets and higher wages and benefits. When we recruit new manufacturers into St. Clair County, we target those that employ advanced technology and higher skill sets. Unlike basic manufacturing, these jobs are more difficult to outsource. It gives us a more stable economy.”
For the future, economic officials are looking well beyond 2012’s finish line. “We have renewed our commitment to obtain competitive sites. I believe we will have more auto suppliers locating in St. Clair County over the next five years,” he said. “If you don’t have competitive sites, they’re not coming.” Under the EDC’s three-year strategic plan, “We are concentrating on getting product,” he added. “Identifying new land for development is at the top of the list. Once that is in place, the rest of it — job creation — will fall in behind it.” To reach that end, Smith talked of the seminar EDC held in late 2012 for the county’s elected officials, explaining to them exactly what it takes to land new industry and facilitate expanding industry. “Every community in St. Clair County now understands what it takes. We have seen tremendous response from elected officials.” Pell City stands as an example of coming out on top in the competition for business because of its preparation, Smith said. “Pell City has done an incredible job with competitive sites and infrastructure. It’s a proactive approach.” And with a lion’s share of the new growth inside its city limits, the approach is apparently working.
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From vacancy to
Shopper’s Paradise Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin Submitted photos It began with the shell of an empty building left behind with the closing of a major grocery store. Today, cash registers are ringing again. Jobs have been created. And sales-tax coffers are building once again. Sound like a dream come true for a community hurt by a struggling economy over the past few years? From the crowded parking lot of Goody’s and Burke’s Outlet in Pell City, that’s exactly what it looks like. On Oct. 17, Goody’s officially opened its doors. On Nov. 9, Burke’s followed right behind. Up ahead, look for a furniture store and a medical clinic to join them. Also hoped for on the horizon is a national restaurant chain on an out-parcel of the property fronting US 231 North and 7th Avenue. After Food World exited the scene in 2008, Pell City developer Jeff Jones bought the property. Parallel to that sale, Ridgeland, Mississippi-based Second Street Plaza, LLC, bought a similar Food World-anchored shopping center in Leeds. The two later got together to discuss their investments, Brent Federick, a partner in Second Street Plaza said, and his company eventually bought the property from Jones. It was apparently a good fit since Second Street specializes in redeveloping buildings like the vacant Food World. And with the help of an incentive package from City of Pell City and St. Clair County, Second Street was able to turn an empty shell into a thriving shopping center with room for growth. The Façade Improvement Redevelopment Agreements with the new property owner using Amendment 772 legislation allowed public funds to be used in certain circumstances to spur new economic development in communities. On the Pell City project, in addition to city and county officials, Federick lauded the efforts of St. Clair Economic Development Council Assistant Director Candice Hill and Executive Director Don Smith. “They were awesome to work with.” “This a great example of how progressive elected officials can partner in supporting local developers in creating a larger tax base, quality retail shopping options for the community, and, most importantly, eliminate abandoned shopping centers with no risk to the taxpayers,” Hill said. “When all is said and done,” it will represent a total
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The new Goody’s and Burke’s Outlet
investment of $2.6 million, Federick said, and the job creation will be in the 35 to 40 range. Federick expressed gratitude to the cooperating governments supporting the plans, noting that the project would not have been feasible without the incentives offered. But he was quick to point out that the city and county will reap far greater benefits than what they invested with new jobs created, increased sales tax revenue, and it is no longer a blighted property. It fits with St. Clair County’s retail needs as well, said Hill. In 2007, the EDC ordered a study to be done by the UAB Business Analysis Laboratory that pinpointed the areas of St. Clair County’s main corridors that had significant retail gaps. This study not only used Census data, but also polled residents about their retail preferences, she said. Pell City’s study showed that clothing, especially men’s and children’s clothing, was barely present. Hill explained that the study takes a look at the dollars available in a market, which is determined by Census information about incomes earned by residents and compared them with dollars spent in a surrounding radius.
“The difference between dollars available and dollars spent shows how much money we are losing as a county to other shopping corridors,” Hill said. “The technical term for this is ‘leakage,’ and for projects like the Food World Redevelopment, this information helps elected officials determine the actual needs in their community that are worth incentivizing. It also helps them to see how much money is available in the market so that they can have a good idea of whether the market can sustain the additional business.” This is Second Street’s third redevelopment project in three years, having initiated its first in Booneville, Miss., turning a vacant Walmart into a productive shopping center. The second project took Federick and partner Myles Harris across state lines to Alabama. It was in Leeds, where the company developed a CVS Pharmacy and Warehouse Discount Grocery. Pell City’s shopping center is well on its way to fruition, giving the company a sizable stake in the St. Clair County region. As for the future, Federick said, Second Street, named for that first shopping center it developed, is “looking for other opportunities in Alabama. We are looking for other municipalities where we can redevelop retail properties.”
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IMPROVING QUALITY OF LIFE
St. Clair A whole new level of
medical care for county Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin St. Vincent’s Health System President and CEO John O’Neil remembers the day he and parent company officials from Ascension Health were on a two-hour conference call as he was traveling to his new home in Alabama. It was an historic phone call, not just for the company but for Pell City, St. Clair County and the region. By the time the call was over, the decision was made to move forward with building a new state-of-the-art hospital in Pell City, Alabama. Partners came together — St. Vincent’s, St. Clair Health Care Authority, St. Clair County Commission, St. Clair Economic Development Council and City of Pell City. Dirt began to move. And rising from what was nothing but woods would become a beacon for health care in the region. In December 2011, St. Vincent’s St. Clair opened its impressive doors in a new facility just north of Interstate 20, and in only 12 months, its impact has been felt in ways never imagined in most circles. As he looked over a crowd of well-wishers and staff a year later at the hospital’s first-anniversary celebration, O’Neill recalled the phone call that left no doubt that the hospital system is “committed to this county, this facility and you.” Kidada Hawkins, vice president of Rural Hospital Operations and part of the transition team during the move from the old, aging facility on John Haynes Drive, echoed O’Neil’s outlook on the role of St. Vincent’s in St. Clair County life. “We are blessed to be here. This is not a hospital, it’s a ministry,” he said. Evan Ray has since taken the reins of the thriving St. Vincent’s St. Clair as president and chief operating officer of Rural Hospital Operations, noting just how far the hospital has come in such a short time. Emergency Department usage is up 30 percent. In-patient discharges soared 47 percent. Surgeries increased 25 percent, and outpatient services are up 20 percent. Physicians Plaza, the professional office building adjacent to the hospital, has seen tremendous growth with new doctors, an advanced wound-care center and a durable medical supply facility. A sleep-disorder center opened its doors in December, and it earned prestigious national
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Joint Commission Accreditation for the hospital and laboratory. Ray credits the genesis of it all to the “leadership coming to the table to bring this to reality.” And a welcoming community since has provided the sturdy support it needed to build for the future. “We are going to continue to see growth,” Ray predicted. Expanded services like vascular surgery, podiatry and urology are “moving forward.” Endocrinology services have been added. The hyperbaric oxygen treatment offered through the only wound-care center in St. Clair and the only one in the St. Vincent’s system is a service with high demand since opening in August. In the first quarter of 2013, an occupational-health clinic will open to deal with growth spurred by Honda and other manufacturing in the region. The hospital is working “hand in hand to treat veterans,” who are beginning to move into the Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home on 27 acres just across the road. Dr. Barry Collins, whose Pell City Internal Family Medicine practice is in Physicians Plaza, is serving as medical director at the veterans home. A few hundred yards down Veterans Parkway, Jefferson State Community College is gearing up for expansion of its nursing school. Growth is evident all around the hospital, and inside, plans are expected to keep pace. “Based on the response from the community, there is no doubt we will be expanding. There is need for a footprint expansion,” Ray said. “This is a real business-development-minded community. We are pleased with the mindset. It has been incredibly warm and welcoming, internally and out in the community.” And St. Vincent’s has answered with cutting-edge technology, like its all-digital imaging equipment. It is making services more accessible with accommodating scheduling, like Saturday mammography by appointment only or special rates on preventive tests at certain times of the year. “It’s not just a new building,” Ray said. “It’s all top notch” — from services offered to services rendered. “There is no service that we offer here that can be surpassed by any hospital in the region.” St. Clair Health Care Authority Chairman Lawrence Fields agreed, looking at it from various viewpoints. As directly involved with the hospital through the Authority, he sees the growth and the improvements firsthand. “We have had a record-breaking first year,” and he, too, hinted at expansions to meet the needs of the community. As a former mayor, he sees it as “one of the biggest things that has taken place around here. It’s just tremendous and it’s going to continue to grow.” And as a businessman in real estate, it has “affected our business. Three couples say they are moving to Pell City because of the hospital. It is one of the most modern in the country. I have heard nothing but good things.”
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IMPROVING QUALITY OF LIFE
FOR THEIR SERVICE New veterans home sets bar for rest of nation
Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin It was like a family’s long anticipated arrival of troops deployed to faraway lands. Flags waved. Welcome signs appeared. Cheers erupted. After years of planning for this day, the first two residents of the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home arrived to a hero’s welcome. William D. Gercken of Birmingham and Peter E. McConico of Vincent, both Vietnam veterans, made history at the new home with their arrival in late November. With their arrival, they ushered in a new era for veterans’ health care at the opening of this state-of-the-art facility, which has been hailed as a model for the nation to follow. Both were residents of Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City and are in the first wave of residents of homes there, Bay Minette and Huntsville who were given the option of transferring to the new facility. Their families opted for the move so they could be closer to them. “My husband looks forward to my visits,” said Gercken’s wife, Dawn. “Now that I’m only 20 minutes away, I’ll be able to visit him more often.” Shirley McConico echoed the sentiment, noting that the proximity of Vincent to Pell City will make her travel for visits easier. “Welcoming our first two residents to the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home is very special,” said Kim Justice, state Veterans Homes executive director. “We look forward to giving future residents the same level of respect they so rightly deserve when we welcome them ‘home.’ ”
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Just weeks before, officials from across Alabama cut the ribbon to dedicate the veterans home, named in honor of the nation’s most decorated soldier and an Alabama native. He was wounded 14 times and did five tours in Vietnam. He earned the medal of honor, presented by President Richard Nixon, for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” A display case of his military memorabilia begins a series of displays of all branches of service lining both sides of the corridor of the new home’s entrance way. The corridor leads to a town center, where buildings connect to form neighborhoods that will be the homes of veterans living there. From skilled nursing to the first domiciliary in the state, this veterans home model has anything but an institutional look or feel. “It was built with the ‘wow factor’ in mind,” said state Veterans Administration Commissioner Clyde Marsh at the dedication ceremony. Williams Blackstock was the architectural firm for the project, and Marsh noted that its design says style “from beam to beam and stern to stern.” He also thanked Doster Construction for delivering “a magnificent building. They stepped up to meet each challenge” for the state’s largest veterans home. The size is impressive, with 240,000 square feet on 27 acres providing 254 private rooms. Eighty of those are dedicated to assisted living and Alzheimer’s and dementia care — also firsts for the state. St. Clair Economic Development Council Executive Director Don Smith said he could talk about the economic impact, “but this isn’t about the economy. This is about the veterans.” In 2008, he said, Pell City wasn’t even on the radar screen of plans for the new home. But a passionate group of St. Clair County officials put their plan and their plea together, making a compelling case for the campus shared by St. Vincent’s St. Clair and Jefferson State Community College. When they were through, “there wasn’t much question where it was going to be,” Smith said. And by the fall of 2012, only two words could adequately put a much-anticipated exclamation point on it: Welcome Home.
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IMPROVING QUALITY OF LIFE
Expanding the professional population
Job opportunities bringing in the talent Story by Carol Pappas Pell City’s Boomer Meason knows all about opportunity. Fresh from Auburn University with an industrial engineering diploma in hand, he never really dreamed of coming back to his hometown to launch his career. Instead, he interviewed in major metropolitan cities like Houston and Dallas. But through contacts with the St. Clair Economic Development Council and its earlier recruitment of a German company called Eissmann Automotive, Meason found his way back to Pell City. “I didn’t think about coming back to Pell City until all this growth started happening around here,” Meason said. He had given his resume to Ed Gardner Jr., who shared it with his father, Ed Gardner Sr. Both have served as executive director of St. Clair EDC, and the elder Gardner shared it with Eissmann. Boomer was called in for an interview with Eissmann, which manufactures leather dashboards for luxury vehicles like Mercedes, and within a week of that 2005 meeting, Boomer was on an airplane heading for Germany for training. He spent a month in a “full crash course” in every department, and he quickly learned from key people at headquarters he still calls on today. “It was a good learning experience.” From there, other opportunities opened doors for him. He spent Thanksgiving in China during a one-month stint, helping design, develop and deliver an entire production line. By that time, the main production line for Mercedes’ dashboards was up and running in Pell City with other small production lines being established. Within in the next few years, he traveled to Mexico more than a half dozen times to help develop other Mercedes products at Eissmann’s plant in Puebla. Boomer then spent an entire year living in Germany because Eissmann needed an English-speaking engineer to work with the company’s British customers. Through that opportunity, “I traveled everywhere in Europe. We have customers all through Europe.” He looks back on it now and realizes it was “the most valuable year I spent. I gained a whole new set of skills and
Boomer Meason tools” to advance his career. Since joining the Eissmann team, he has grown with the engineering department and the company. Today, he is senior manufacturing engineer at Eissmann, and he talks in global terms rather than local ones. While Eissmann sits on a piece of property not far from the field where he played baseball or the high school where he discovered he was strong in math, “it really is a worldwide company, and you can feel it everyday.” The son of Leah Whatley and the late Sam Meason, Boomer talks of the opportunities he has already had in his young life because of companies like Eissmann locating in Pell City, Alabama. “Dad told me with this job I would have so many opportunities to travel,” he said. There would be plenty of time to settle down. And he was right. Boomer married a month ago, and he and wife, Melody, are redesigning his grandparents’ home. A thriving career, a newlywed and a new home where he grew up — Boomer not only knows the value of a strong economic development program in providing opportunities like his close to home, he’s living it. “It’s a lot of hard work,” he admits, “but it is very cool.”
18 • St. Clair County Economic Development Council • Partnership for Tomorrow
Learning job skills opens doors For a full year, Jada Curtis worked with the St. Clair County Economic Development Council as an intern. That year not only taught her about the inner workings of economic development, it showed her the opportunities that kind of work could generate in her community for generations to come. “I learned countless things involving the way our county was run and operated through Leadership St. Clair County,” a program begun by the EDC to identify and develop leaders throughout the county. “I also had the opportunity to discover how wonderful St. Clair County was by working with the Economic Development Council in helping to bring jobs to our community and staying in contact with our local industries to ensure optimum progress.” These days, she is working toward a degree in nursing and getting on-the-job experience at Children’s South. When her degree is completed, she said she looks forward to “being able to work in the county I call home
due to the hard work and effort the EDC has put toward bringing more jobs in healthcare to St. Clair County.” St. Clair Economic Development Executive Director Don Smith calls the county a “mini medical mecca,” where St. Vincent’s St. Clair — the county’s new stateof-the-art hospital is in the midst of its second year and already looking to expand. Northside Medical Associates has doubled the size of its facility. And the Col. Robert L. Howard Veteran’s Home, has opened in a 238,000 square foot complex that is a model for the nation. Rounding out the medical landscape is the nursing program being launched at Pell City’s campus of Jefferson State Community College, which is seen as a significant boon to serving the healthcare needs of a growing St. Clair County. Today’s burgeoning healthcare industry in St. Clair has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the local economy, created thousands of good paying jobs and is poised to continue its upward track.
Partnership for Tomorrow • St. Clair County Economic Development Council • 19
Why St. Clair County? “Metro Bank’s growth over the past ten years is a testimony to the work the EDC has done to increase the growth and prosperity in St. Clair County We are very supportive of their efforts and the leadership they provide in continuing to develop our County.” — Don Perry, Metro Bank
“The community and government structure of St. Clair County and the St. Clair County Economic Development Council have formed a ready, willing, and able partnership to grow industry. As a company, they are collectively responsible for our relocation to St. Clair, and we strongly recommend involvement to ensure the future growth of the County.” — Bill Bowron, Red Diamond “We at Jefferson State Community College believe that economic development for the region and career opportunities for the individual are indistinguishable. To achieve these goals we need the vision and direction for economic and community development that is Partnership for Tomorrow. The community is now receptive to this program and the benefits it will bring.” — Judy Merritt, Jefferson State Community College “The EDC staff was instrumental in our decision to locate our operation in St. Clair County. They assembled a team of knowledgeable professionals to ensure that our new operation was a success. We could not have asked for better support from the community or an economic development organization.” — Dennis Swinney, Nufab Rebar “We all have a stake in the responsible growth and development of the St. Clair County area. In supporting Partnership for Tomorrow, I urge each business and public leader to join us in making this investment in the future of our community. St. Clair County has tremendous potential with bountiful resources and a hardworking workforce. The mechanisms and willingness to fully capitalize and reach this potential are in place.” — Ricky Buckner, Buckner Barrel
500 College Circle, Suite 306, Pell City, AL 35125 205.814.1440 • www.stclairedc.com