partnership for Tomorrow
Charting Success Together
An Initiative of the St. Clair County Economic Development Council
LOCATED FOR SUCCESS Welcome to St. Clair County, Alabama Take one look at St. Clair County, and it is easy to see that it is in an enviable position in Alabama and the southeast. It is centrally located in the state with two major interstate systems – I-20 and I-59 – running through its borders. Railroad access, progressive leadership from the county, large cities and small towns working together, large tracts of developable land and cohesive strategic planning all add up to St. Clair’s successful record of growth, landing it in the top five fastest growing counties for nearly five decades. Couple economic development’s traditional indicators with the amenities St. Clair County offers, and the future can’t help but look bright. In health care, St. Clair Economic Development Council Executive Director Don Smith sees a burgeoning medical center for the region. “It has definitely become a medical hub from east and south of St. Clair County because of the number and quality of services provided,” he said. It seems to grow by the day. Manufacturing has seen a significant rise. In just the past year, Unipres, a Tier 1 Honda supplier, announced 70 new jobs adding to its roster in a $40 million expansion. Allied Mineral Products has broken ground on an $11 million expansion. “Bringing companies like Preformed Windings in, you’re adding to your tax base,” said Pell City Manager Brian Muenger. “You’re allowing people to either become employed or better their employment, and that’s obviously going to give them more discretionary income that they’re going to spend at some of these retailers in town and further perpetuate that cycle.” Preformed Windings is a British manufacturer of coils for large industrial generators. The company will create 85 new jobs in the county, the result of Pell City beating out its much larger neighbor Birmingham for the Sheffield, England-based firm. In workforce development, public schools, community college, economic development and the private business community all intersect in a highly successful program that continues to expand and meet the needs of business and education alike. An apprenticeship program at WKW, the county’s largest employer, is earning accolades for its ability to teach marketable skill sets that put students to work in high paying jobs and
careers. Student programs through Garrison Steel, Goodgame Company and Ford Meter Box are bringing students face to face with their future potential through hands-on training and the ability to earn certification before they even leave high school. In the area of tourism, St. Clair County is in an enviable position once again. Two major lakes, nationally known for bass fishing and recreation, call the county home. St. Clair has become an internationally known destination point for bouldering, and it hosts the triple crown rock climbing event each year at Horse Pens 40, a mountaintop attraction of towering, centuries old boulders. Cyclists from around the southeast regularly
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St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital
Thriving commercial district
pick St. Clair for their treks because of the scenic routes found throughout the county. Dining and entertainment offerings are growing throughout St. Clair with a new movie theater, bowling and entertainment complex complete with indoor zipline opening in December. A white tablecloth restaurant in Argo/Trussville is serving diners from throughout the region, earning rave reviews. ‘Meat ‘n Three’ restaurants, barbecue joints and catfish restaurants found in virtually every corner are plentiful and definite palate pleasers. Art galleries and a state-of-the-art theatre keep the arts thriving. Historic downtowns, antique shops and malls keep the past in vogue. And the growth of retail throughout the county simply adds to the diverse amenities found
within St. Clair’s borders. As one CEO described the county’s allure, “We chose St. Clair County to expand the operation because of the vitality of the business climate here. It is fresh and energetic and poised for long-term growth, uniquely situated along the corridor between business centers to the east and west. Access is simple to business centers to the north and south. “With a commitment from the county to help develop the plentiful workforce with education and skills training for our industry, we have a partner with continuous improvement as a goal. The beauty of the mountains, the lakes and proximity to world class sports facilities means there’s no other place we would want to be than in St. Clair County, Alabama.”
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BY THE NUMBERS EDC Report Card: Making the grade and more It’s hard to get where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. And from St. Clair County Economic Development Council Executive Director Don Smith’s vantage point, the rear-view mirror has an enviable view. What’s more, the road up ahead looks even more promising. EDC has completed its five-year strategic plan, and Smith reported on the progress to Partnership for Tomorrow, a coalition of business stakeholders who have anted up to help move St. Clair County forward. While the plan might have seemed ambitious to others around the state, St. Clair is on track to meet or exceed its goals a year early. It wanted to obtain 500 acres for investment. Check. It obtained 828 acres. Add $50 million in payroll, $3 million more for schools, $150 million in new investment. Done, done and done. Putting St. Clair County to work are 1,500 new jobs created. Smith is quick to point out that EDC can’t do it alone. Its partnerships in workforce development, for instance, are paving the way for brighter futures for the county’s young people. With heavy emphasis on workforce development, identifying skillsets companies need and working with the school systems and Jefferson State Community College, EDC has helped put together a winning combination. Students are training for good paying careers and walking into those starting $50,000-a-year careers debt free, not a story shared by many going traditional college routes. Health care is growing rapidly. St. Vincent’s St. Clair, Northside Medical Home and Pell City Internal Family Medicine are leading the way. New primary care clinics have opened in Margaret, Springville, Ashville and Trussville thanks to their efforts. A new pediatric clinic has opened in Springville. The state’s premier eye hospital, Callahan, has opened a clinic in Pell City. Chambers of Commerce throughout the county are getting a boost from EDC with efforts focused on making them stronger and giving them greater ability to promote their areas. Professional marketing packets are being provided to all communities to highlight their marketability.
Publix opens in Moody
EDC is sharing its knowledge to its constituency through summits on Economic Development for retail and industrial issues and Smart Growth on best practices for preparing for growth. In addition, plans are on the drawing board for a small business incubator to anchor entrepreneurs and help give them their start. Downtown historic districts are being revitalized, and tourism and recreation are coming into focus as targets for development, promotion and growth. A logo and branding are on the horizon for St. Clair to project a unified, consistent and compelling image as efforts for the future progress. “We have 15 active projects going on in St. Clair right now,” Smith said in April, noting that the county’s recruitment and development efforts over the past four years have been “very successful.” But, it’s no time to rest on laurels, said Smith. He was already eyeing the next strategic plan, which is being unveiled now.
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Breaking ground on movie theater, bowling alley
Springville Pediatrics on horizon
Northside Medical Home cuts ribbon, doubles its size
Nursing, Allied Health wing opens at Jefferson State Community College
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MANUFACTURING Manufacturing continues upward trend in St. Clair As the auto industry continues to anchor a burgeoning manufacturing sector, St. Clair County has reaped the benefits with employment at nearby Honda, the county’s largest employer not located inside its borders. But the real story lies in the automobile suppliers located throughout the county that are boosting the economy side-by-side with a solid, diverse manufacturing base that has turned the county into an international melting pot of business and industry. While cutting the ribbon on new industry seems to garner the most attention, St. Clair County recognizes the value in expansions. It has a healthy dose of both, and together, they have built a sturdy economic base. The latest expansion at WKW-Erbsoleh North America was a $5 million expansion, pushing employment at the manufacturer of aluminum trim parts for automobiles to over 600 and maintaining its position as the county’s largest employer. Eissmann, a German auto supplier, has expanded six times in its 12 years with the latest $14.5 million investment boosting employment by another 200 workers. Unipres, another automotive supplier, is adding 70 jobs from a $40 million expansion of its stamping facilities. Allied Mineral Products is in the midst of an $11 million expansion, and Preformed Windings will employ 85 at its first plant in the United States – St. Clair County. Preformed Windings makes coil windings for large generators for power production companies and industrial-sized generators for large cruise ships and the like and is a subsidiary of the Scottish firm, Parsons Peebles. Parsons Peebles had initially picked Irondale in suburban Birmingham as the new home for the Preformed Windings in the Southeast, choosing it over New Orleans. However, then the company opted to take a second look and picked Pell City after a whirlwind pitch from local officials. Teamwork from city, county and state officials and Jefferson State Community College helped Pell City pull an economic rabbit out of a hat. “The chief financial officer said, ‘You know what? We would have made a terrible
Eissmann, Rain Bird, Unipres and Allied Minerals are examples of industries on the move
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mistake by not locating in Pell City,’” said Don Smith, executive director of the St. Clair County Economic Development Council. “It was one of the fastest projects I ever worked.” A pair of Steele industries continue to make their impact felt. Yachiyo Manufacturing of Alabama, an automotive supplier, and Rain Bird, the leading manufacturer and provider of irrigation products and services make multimillion dollar investments in the county and build employment. And Moody’s industrial park continues to attract greater growth of companies with national reputations. Current and former officials say the recruitment of companies with a successful history increases the stability of St. Clair County’s economy. They “came to our county with the intent to grow here, and we are happy to see them succeed,” one former official said. Couple them with other brand name manufacturers like Benjamin Moore paints and Red Diamond coffee and tea, and it only adds to an already impressive roster of global industries in St. Clair County. And the support they get before and after arrival readily serve to strengthen the bond they have with their newfound home.
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HEALTH CARE Expanding health care industry fills prescription for growth Buoyed by a new state-of-the-art hospital, a new nursing school, significant expansions by two of the region’s largest private medical practices and the opening of new pediatric clinics, St. Clair County is leading the way in providing top-notch health care for its citizens. Six years ago, a major health system from metropolitan Birmingham decided to open a new, cutting edge hospital in the county. Today, it draws a patient census from 10 counties. Just across the road, Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home opened on the heels of St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital, becoming a model for the nation in veteran health care and operating at capacity with a waiting list. Nearby Jefferson State Community College just opened its Nursing and Allied Health wing, providing even more opportunities for students and a steady supply of trained and certified people to fill a growing health care jobs market. Large private practices have spurred growth as well. Northside Medical has expanded three times, doubling its size and bringing in specialties once reserved only for much larger, urban areas. In addition, it is opening an urgent care center on its campus in October, and a comprehensive wellness center with indoor pool is on the drawing board. Bringing quality health care directly to underserved areas, Northside has joined forces with St. Vincent’s to operate clinics in Springville, Ashville and Trussville in addition to its own clinic in Moody. Pell City Internal Family Medicine is doing likewise, expanding with additional clinics in Pell City and Margaret. Pediatric care is well served with Children’s Pediatrics, affiliated with Children’s of Alabama, in Pell City, Springville Pediatrics in Springville and Purohit Pediatrics in Moody. As for the growth, St. Clair EDC Executive Director Don Smith predicted, “I don’t see it stopping.” And that makes his job a little easier with growth not only in the medical arena but in industry and business as well because of it. “With the number of medical-related companies and when you have that kind of synergy taking place on I-20 and US 231, it is very attractive to those investing in the medical sector. The community took a very proactive approach toward health care at a
New pediatric practice
time when many rural hospitals were going out of business,” he said. And it is paying huge dividends. From an economic development standpoint, Smith sees more pluses. “A company’s largest expenses are labor and payroll. With having so many services here to help with physical therapy and access to emergency care, it helps offset their potential medical-related expenses in their payroll costs.” And the medical community itself takes a proactive approach, going into companies and helping improve procedures to help offset long term labor costs. “It’s a real asset,” Smith said. “It speaks volumes. I don’t know of any companies going outside for health care.” Over the past decade, Smith has seen at least a $100 million investment in the county’s medical sector, much of it shouldered by St. Vincent’s and the VA home. Couple it with multiple, major expansions at Northside and key moves by PCIFM to expand its services and
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A model for the nation
Northside Medical expands campus, offerings
reach, and the medical community in St. Clair County shows no signs of slowing. Their investment is well spent in laying a strong foundation on which to build, Smith said. “It will continue to be more important as demographics continue to shift with more folks getting older and needing quality health care. I believe that sector will continue to grow.” And the quality of life has definitely benefitted. People looking to retire and settle into an area look at the quality of medical services available. Job opportunities and expanded medical care for citizens are also among quality of life factors trending positively. “Jefferson State has been wonderful to respond to the growing needs in our community. Before there was a replacement hospital, the VA and Northside, there was no
Pell City Internal Family Medicine grows again
significant medical presence. Now, Jeff State offers a complete Registered Nursing program with 100 percent passage and placement rates.” Citing the $.5 million investment in the nursing program, Smith said officials are hopeful the volume of graduates continues to grow.” And as St. Clair County’s population continues to grow, Smith predicted that the medical sector will have a strong future for at least the next 20 to 30 years. And that opens up even more opportunities. “We want to make sure our brightest young people have the opportunity to remain in the community, so they can become pillars of the community. It is always good if you can retain the next generation of leaders instead of exporting them to other areas.”
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WHY ST. CLAIR COUNTY? Metro Bank has invested in St. Clair County for almost 30 years, with six locations throughout the county. During that time, we have learned it’s the people who live in St. Clair County that make our county a tremendous place to do business. It’s a special people, the citizens of St. Clair County, that make this county stand out as somewhere in which we want to continue to invest for many years to come. Jason Dorough, President Metro Bank Pell City, being located on I-20 provides excellent visibility and access to the new entertainment facility which will serve as a draw and a destination attraction from miles around. St. Clair County has some 87,000 residents, but no movie theatre or bowling alley to call its own, rather residents have had to make long drives to other cities to enjoy a movie or bowling. Both Pell City and St. Clair County officials and residents got behind this project from the beginning, and without the support of the local constituency working diligently to make this project a reality it couldn’t have happened. The area continues growing, so getting ahead of that growth with an entertainment complex of this size and quality is a big step toward continuing to attract additional businesses and consumers to the area. Gary Moore CEO, Premiere Companies WKW is proud to be a part of the local business community and as one of the larger employers in St. Clair County, we want to be a consistent contributor to the economic growth in this part of the state. We are looking forward to further developing our great partnership with the St. Clair EDC as they have been instrumental to our success and longevity in the region. Todd Green President, WKW, North American Operations As a commercial developer, I have been ‘selling’ Pell City and St. Clair County for a long time. It has not been difficult to make a convincing argument on why you should locate your business in Pell City, and it has been a very successful strategy for my company. Pell City is the hub of an economic region, pulling business from multiple counties to its state-of-the-art hospital, its cutting-edge community college and its beautiful lake with 275 miles of shoreline and a national reputation for fishing. Couple those selling points with governmental leadership providing a business-friendly climate, and it only underscores the belief that St. Clair County should be a destination point for business. Bill Ellison President/CEO, I-20 Development
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WHAT OUR CEOs SAY The business climate is good in St. Clair County. We are 110 years old now. They are pro-business. The leadership of St. Clair County – the mayors, county commission, EDC and the people in St. Clair County are good people to work with. We have four generations working for us. We have been involved with the EDC almost since its inception, and we look at the business they have gotten to come into St. County, and it’s just phenomenal. St. Clair is a unique county. They seem to be able to come together as one. They’re united. There’s spirit of cooperation and unity St. Clair County has been able to develop to move forward. Spencer Weitman President, National Cement Jefferson State Community College is exceptionally proud to be a part of St. Clair County. From the beginning, the entire community embraced us and made us feel welcome. The growth and expansion of our St. Clair-Pell City Campus has been enhanced by the tremendous support and partnerships of the economic development community. The collaborative spirit in St. Clair County has been so meaningful to us, and it will help Jefferson State continue to deliver educational and career opportunities for years to come. Keith Brown President, Jefferson State Community College The EDC has been a strong supporter and a great partner for Unipres Alabama since the first day we located in St. Clair County. They, along with the County and the Town of Steele, have always been responsive to our needs as we continue to grow our operations. Unipres has locations all over the world, and the St. Clair County EDC is an international caliber organization. Kiyotaka Kawashima, President Unipres Alabama We opened St. Vincent’s St. Clair in 2011 in collaboration with the St. Clair County Health Care Authority, St. Clair County Commission, City of Pell City, and St. Clair Economic Development Council to meet the health care needs of one of the fastestgrowing counties in the state. Today, St. Clair County continues to be a vibrant and ever-expanding community that we’re honored to serve. As we look to the future and the transforming healthcare landscape, St. Vincent’s and Ascension remain committed to finding new and innovative ways to best provide personalized, compassionate care to our patients in this area. Jason Alexander Senior Vice President, Ascension Healthcare Ministry Market Executive, St. Vincent’s Health System and Providence Health System
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WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT Workforce development key to successful future There was a time when industry and education acted as two independent entities even though they were very much dependent upon each other’s success. In today’s St. Clair County, they are not only talking with one another, they have forged a partnership that teaches the skills in need, and industry is putting those skills to work. They are the kinds of partnerships other communities want to emulate. A decade ago, if you were a high school student in Alabama, chance are, all eyes were on what was touted as the ultimate prize – a fouryear college degree. But about that same time, employers across the state and the country, started noticing how lean the labor pool was for skilled workers, whether it was a metal fabricator, carpenter, certified nursing assistant, pharmacy tech or paralegal. We were literally “running out of skilled labor,” said Garrison Steel owner John Garrison. An immediate response was needed, particularly in Alabama, if the state was going to remain economically competitive. “As we were getting graduating seniors, we could not get students who needed to do what we needed them to do. They were worried about graduating students who were going to college and not about students who needed a job,” said Jason Goodgame, vice president at Goodgame Company. “Some students don’t need to go straight to college. They need to work.” St. Clair County and Pell City were particularly in a prime position to address the problem — all the pieces were already in place. Goodgame, Garrison and other businesses like Ford Meter Box, working with the Economic Development Council, the Pell City School System, St. Clair School System and Jefferson State Community College began to develop a plan. Actually, it was a series of initiatives to help identify and train students starting in high school or immediately after graduation to fill the ever-growing gaps in the workforce. “We need brick masons, electricians, plumbers, and really, for us, people who can be a jack-ofall-trades: put down a foundation, frame out a door, a bit of everything,” Goodgame said. “So, we passed a measure to tax ourselves, the businesses that needed the employees, to educate these students that we need.”
The initial results, spurred on by the growing demand for workers as the economy recovered, were varied. From training schools in Birmingham to the iCademy next to Jefferson State Community College in Pell City to new initiatives and classes in the school system, it often involved spending part of the school day doing on-the-job training. “We want students who are coming out of high school to have entry-level skills,” Garrison said. “…Beyond high school, we want them to come into our companies and continue training with post-secondary schools and with on-site training at our facility by skilled instructors.” As business owners from all areas of the Pell City economy — heavy manufacturing to medical, food, legal and other professional services — stepped up to the plate to help with training and hiring the students, the Pell City School System responded in kind. “We just have students who are being matched up with specific career interests. The program gives them the opportunity to try out career fields before committing to study through two- and four-year schools,” said Kim Williams, curriculum coordinator for Pell City schools. “And we are getting the students partnered with people who are passionate about what they are teaching – places like Garrsion Steel, Goodgame, Ford Meter Box,” Superintendent Michael Barber added. “… It is one generation of workers training the next. Whether it is healthcare, business, construction, kids are getting excited. It’s very meaningful.” The original varied workforce-training programs are starting to work together under a more unified structure, with coordination coming from both the state and local levels. “Where we are headed is merging these programs back together,” Goodgame said. That means better coordination between the school system and the business community and better job placement for students and recent graduates. Williams even serves on the Industrial Development Board, a sign of the close partnership between schools and the business community. According to all involved, it is a win-win proposition: The businesses get job-ready workers, and students have the ability to go right into the workforce, earn a real living wage, receive training with room for upward mobility and, if they want, continue their education, often without incurring the heavy debt loads students going straight to college can incur.
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Ford Meter Box Garrison Steel
Good Job, Good Life Blake White, a member of the 2015 graduating class at Pell City High School, is in his second year at Ford Meter Box. The first year he worked there was during his senior year of high school. And according to Blake, things could not be going better. He has a good job that he likes, he is training, has already moved up the ladder some, he is still attending college, and he is earning more money than he dreamed possible right out of high school. “If I work here full time, they will pay for college — tuition, books, the whole nine yards.” Along the way, he is learning a wide range of skills. Already a natural mechanic, he is picking up electrical skills, something he says may help if he pursues a degree in electrical engineering or similar field. And starting as the low man on the totem pole was no problem for Blake — it means he gets to train under people who know the business and work with people he likes. “Never settle for where you are at. Do whatever needs doing. You can make it to the top, but you have got to pay your dues,” he said. He is working on his core classes for his twoyear degree, and the jury is still out on where he goes from there, whether he stays in the business or starts on some kind of engineering degree. “In a place like this, you can go as far as you
want to go if you are willing to put in the time and work hard for it,” he said. Like many of his co-workers at Garrison, Ragland graduate Cody Poe first heard about a job through a friend who already worked there. “A buddy of mine who was a welder called and told me they were looking for a burn-table operator — it’s a CNC plasma machine that burns parts out of plates. That takes training and skill to operate,” he said. He had originally wanted to be a State Trooper, but things have worked out well at Garrison. “When I started out, Mr. Garrison was impressed with my work ethic. He pulled me off the floor and is training me to do steel purchasing for the company. “I came in and proved myself, and doors opened for me. They are talking about sending me to class, but there is also lots of hands-on training from the guy who has been doing it all his life. He took me under his wing, showing me the ins and outs.” That training is an essential part of what has made the whole process such a success. For Cody, it has helped lay the foundation for the rest of his life. “It has given me financial security. I moved out on my own. I got to buy a vehicle on my own. It’s a jump start on my future. I live about five miles from here. It is really great. I don’t ever plan on leaving. I plan on staying here as long as I can.
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WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT “You have got to come in and prove yourself, come in and want to work. Give it all you have got to get the job done. “I came in, gave it my all, and it paid off,” he said. Good workers, Good business Jim Ford, human resources manager for Ford Meter Box in Pell City, believes everything they are doing in workforce development is an investment, not only in his business, but in the local economy as well. “We are doing anything we can to help get the idea out that education is important – not just four-year, but technical training, too — something that gets them a good-paying job,” he said. “We pay 100 percent if our people will commit their time to school as long as they pass. It grows our workforce and our community. That is a tenet of Ford Meter Box as a whole. “It means a sustainable workforce for us in the long run. We think it makes our community better. It brings jobs and keeps jobs here,” he said. And an educated and skilled workforce helps people like St. Clair Economic Development Council Executive Director Don Smith bring in better-paying jobs. “It’s a cooperative effort. We are glad to do it and hope it continues,” Ford said. Smith agreed, pointing out the beginnings of workforce development go back years, first with the iCademy, now with new classes at Jeff State and Pell City High School and on-the-job training at businesses across the area. “At the end of the day, companies are going to come where the people have the skillsets they need. Whether it is high school, a two-year or four-year college, if you are producing students, giving them the opportunities to learn those skillsets, then those companies are going to come,” he said. “It’s a great recruitment tool,” said Jason Roberts, assistant director of St. Clair EDC and someone Smith credits with much of the success of the workforce training program. The workforce development effort could not have come soon enough for Roberts. “In the recent past, schools did their own thing, and their objective was usually four-year college or bust. But the reality is, in our community, we have many jobs and fields where the skilled working population is retiring, getting older, and there is no one ready to backfill those positions,” he said. Some fields, like truck driving, are so in demand that employees willing to put in the time can earn six figures a year.
“You can get those truck driving jobs all day long. The same is true for welders, plumbers and electricians,” he said. Meanwhile, Jefferson State Community College and WKW Automotive are teaming up to provide skills training for students as part of a continuing regional initiative to boost workforce development. This latest effort would give qualified students financial help with tuition and books, a paid internship and the possibility for employment. The partnership provides 12 Jefferson State manufacturing students an opportunity for a paid 24-hour-a-week internship at WKW Erbsoleh in Pell City. Students work as an advanced machine operator apprentice while taking classes toward an associate in applied science degree.” The classes are part of the community college’s manufacturing option. “The WKW Automotive partnership not only helps students with their educational costs, but it provides a paid internship and equips them with real-world training for in-demand employment,” according to Jefferson State President Keith Brown. Now, with everyone working together, the workforce development program is helping the EDC take St. Clair County business recruitment to the next level. “Now everyone is trying to connect,” Roberts said. “We have let education know companies and businesses are buyers of their products — educated students – and there is a big push to get people trained to fill these gaps in the workforce. “It’s essential to business recruiting, especially here, because we have proof of product — students in place at businesses here. It’s the No. 1 driving force when companies are looking at an area,” Roberts said. “They know their employees are going to make their company successful.”
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DINING & ENTERTAINMENT Quality of life amenities growing with county As an early Christmas present, St. Clair gets to shed the wrapping on an entertainment complex that has been on the wish list for years. Bowling, movie theater, arcade, zip line – they’re all rolled into one at Premier Cinemas set to open in Pell City. But that’s not all St. Clair has to offer in the entertainment field. Try its covered rodeo arena on for size. It’s the only one of its kind in the region, and it regularly draws crowds from all over the southeast as well as here at home. If the stage is your favorite venue, step inside CEPA, the Center for Education and Performing Arts. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra, nationally known rock and soul groups and a talented community theatre troupe have all earned rave reviews at this state-of-the-art, 400+ seat theatre. Walk from the theatre across the grand lobby at CEPA, which also serves as an ideal hall for receptions and other social gatherings, and find a 2,000-seat sports arena, the home of high school sports and other large community events. Stroll down memory lane at two drive-ins – one in Argo and a four-screen drive-in at The Outlet Shops of Grand River in Leeds, which is already a destination point on its own with more than 70 brand name outlet stores. If dining out is the objective du jour, St. Clair is known for its home cooking – from the internationally known catfish at The Ark in Riverside, grabbing headlines in USA Today and The New York Times to another international head-turner, Butts to Go in Pell City, which has been featured in London’s The Guardian, USA Today, Southern Living and publications around the country. The Kitchen captured the attention of USA Today for its down-home cooking, Southern hospitality and a house specialty, Eggs Benedict. One would be hard-pressed to look in any direction in St. Clair and not find a palate pleasing barbecue restaurant. The only problem is choosing your favorite. ‘Meat ‘n Threes’ to finer dining to Mexican and Asian choices are staples of St. Clair’s food scene. In recent years, the county’s restaurant offerings have grown with national branding. Buffalo Wild Wings has entered the economic development picture along Interstate 20, anchoring what is believed to be the catalyst for more ‘big names’ to come.
Buffalo Wild Wings
Alabama Symphony at Center for Education and Performing Arts
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RETAIL Retail now a force driving county economy Retail follows rooftops, they say. And as one of the top five fastest growing counties in Alabama, St. Clair County is poised to take advantage. It already has. While other communities may bemoan that they lost one retailer or another, St. Clair’s economic entities work together to ensure that the retail market is not lost. Take longtime retailers Kmart and Winn-Dixie, who shut their doors, for instance. City and county officials rolled up their sleeves, went to work together, and the end result was an actual gain: Tractor Supply, Bargain Hunt, Martin’s Clothing and Fresh Value Market. One major automobile dealership – Town & Country Ford – rebuilt as a multi-million dollar facility on Pell City’s main thoroughfare, and another dealership – McSweeney Automotive – built another multi-million dollar operation fronting Interstate 20. Book ending the main entrance to Pell City, they serve as an impressive calling card for the county as being open for business. Boutiques and ‘Mom and Pop’ stores are not lost to major retailers like the Walmart Supercenter, Home Depot, Publix and Lowe’s – although they’re all here – they co-exist and thrive in this positive business climate with quality of life offerings unrivaled in most communities. In just the past year, smaller retailers have set up shop in virtually every community in St. Clair County, reversing earlier trends when big box stores came on board. The future looks bright for St. Clair County with retail interest coming from a variety of sectors and venues. Whether it’s the new shop that has opened on the courthouse square in Ashville, the locallyowned women’s clothing boutique that has opened a second store in another community or nationally branded names entering the picture, they share a common bond. They all are looking for a place to call home. And their search seems to come to an end when they find St. Clair County. In recent months, several new businesses from virtually every sector of the economy are locating in Pell City, from an international manufacturer to two new car dealerships, a movie theater (under construction), as well as new retail outlets at the old Kmart location. Within weeks of the struggling big-box retailer’s
announcement to close its Pell City store, Tractor Supply, Bargain Hunt and Martin Family Clothing, all announced they would move into the space. The new ventures mean – as well as other relatively recent newcomers like Buffalo Wild Wings, Jefferson State Community College and others add up to some $44 million in capital investment and more than 450 new jobs for the county. That type of investment means more goodpaying jobs, which in turn gives workers more discretionary income, which lures more consumer-driven businesses to the area and heats up the real estate market, the cycle of a healthy economy, said Pell City Manager Brian Meunger. “Bringing companies like Preformed Windings in, you’re adding to your tax base. You’re allowing people to either become employed or better their employment, and that’s obviously going to give them more discretionary income that they’re going to spend at some of these retailers in town and further perpetuate that cycle,” Meunger said. Here’s a brief look at each of the newcomers: McSweeney Holdings, a family business with Pell City ties, opened McSweeney Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram on John Haynes Drive near US 231. The family also operates an auto customization business. The new dealership is expected to employ 75. Town and Country Ford opened its new showroom and dealership. It features a cutting edge, high-tech showroom. Employment has
16 • St. Clair County Economic Development Council • Partnership for Tomorrow
Town & Country Ford
doubled. Premiere Cinemas is the largest privatelyowned movie theater company in the nation, and Pell City officials worked directly with the owner to bring the multi-screen theater and bowling alley to town. Local economic development officials worked with the Nashville-based firm, Anchor Investments, to put a plan in place to find new tenants when the Pell City Kmart closed. “We knew that Kmart was struggling,” Smith said, “and we knew it was only a matter of time before they closed, so we were very proactive with the city and the county and the developer to put a plan together instead of waiting for the bad news to happen. We basically had letters of commitment in place and were just waiting for Kmart to give us the notification.” Enter: Martin’s, Bargain Hunt and Tractor Supply. Martin Family Clothing is an Alabama firm with other locations in the Oxford- Anniston area. Bargain Hunt, a national retailer, sells surplus name-brand goods at reduced prices, much like Big Lots and similar retailers. Tractor Supply, with its home office in Brentwood, Tenn., offers clothing, home improvement products, agricultural, lawn and garden maintenance products, hardware and livestock, equine and pet care products. When Winn-Dixie closed a few months later, Fresh Value Market opened in that location, barely missing a beat in the grocery market. Turning to real estate and its relationship to retail, Meunger said 2017 was the best year for Pell City in new home construction since the Great Recession of 2008. That means a deeper labor pool for new and existing industries. “We love to see rooftops being added to our community,” he said. “Last year, we built about 70 houses here in town, the most houses we’ve built since the Great Recession. “We’re off to a fast start this year with homebuilding, and we’ve got several new subdivisions that are being platted now. “The cycle continues,” he added. “You want to see your population growing in a good way. You want to see your job base growing in a good way, because a very, very important component to the industrial expansion of the city is you have to have an available workforce. “By increasing our available housing stock, we’re able to accommodate more people moving into the community, provide those industries with the workers that they need and provide our retailers with customers they need to see to make sure their businesses continue to thrive,” Muenger said.
Partnership for Tomorrow • St. Clair County Economic Development Council • 17
RETAIL Mum & Me Mercantile
Love’s Travel Stop
Some of the new business arrivals were the result of quick work, others took nearly a decade to come to fruition, Smith said. Moody is experiencing similar growth. Retail has helped spark the boom. Well-known chains like Love’s Travel Stop and the regional grocer, Publix, along with locally-owned concerns like Carpenetti’s Pizza, have made a difference in Moody’s bottom line. “It absolutely makes a difference,” said Mayor Joe Lee. “The presence of one travel center here (Love’s) changed the way we do business.” He added: “With the Love’s Travel Center coming here, we were able to tear down and revitalize a shopping center and bring Publix in; without the travel center, we wouldn’t have been able to lose that shopping center for a year while we rebuilt it.” Growth came rapidly to Moody, Lee said, in part because of rezoning. Younger families have gravitated to the town, and the median
Publix in Moody
household income is now $59,000. A comparison of the city budget from 1992, when Lee became mayor until today is jawdropping. “When I became mayor, the budget was about $900,000,” he said. “Today, it’s close to $11 million. It goes back to location, you know. Everybody wants to locate close to I-20.” The mayor sees the growth firsthand with every new day. “When I first moved here in 1978, there were four acres and no one around me,” Lee said. “Now I have 600 neighbors.” “It’s nice that all these are hitting now,” Smith said. “Success breeds success. It shows that the market can hold and support these different activities. I think the market is going to continue to do well. “Our job,” he noted, “is to make sure that we’re working with the developers, elected officials and community leaders to make sure these projects are moving forward successfully.”
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TOURISM Tourism destination points plentiful in St. Clair County To say St. Clair County is blessed with destination points would be a sizable understatement. From world class bouldering to deeply rooted historic sites to two lakes with more than 1,000 miles of shoreline between them to a hunting and fishing paradise, this county is anointed with them. Chandler Mountain’s Horse Pens 40 is home to the Triple Crown of bouldering, attracting athletes from all over the world to climb its centuries-old rock formations. Museums in Ashville and Odenville as well as the Looney House, the country’s oldest example of dog trot-style architecture, powerfully tell the story of the county’s historic past. A hunting preserve along with dozens of hunting camps nestled throughout St. Clair County make it a target for avid hunters. And with two lakes, Logan Martin and Neely Henry, anglers flock to St. Clair County – amateurs and professionals – for their bass fishing that has gained an international reputation. Big Canoe Creek Preserve has just been named a Forever Wild property, and its pristine creek and hundreds of acres of natural beauty surrounding it will be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come. A similarly designated property in another county draws 100,000 visitors a year, giving St. Clair County officials more than ample evidence to celebrate. Impressive parks, historic downtowns and nearby national attractions like the shopping mecca known as The Outlet Shops of Grand River, Barber Motorsports track and museum, Talladega SuperSpeedway, Civilian Marksmanship Park and Top Trails Off Road Park are all draws that keep visitors and residents alike flocking to the area. Cyclists from all over wind their way through St. Clair County’s picturesque routes. Tourism has become an industry all on its own, not only providing jobs and spurring more business, its destination points continue to enhance the quality of life, recreational and cultural offerings found and enjoyed throughout St. Clair County.
Horse Pens 40 world class bouldering
Big catches at Logan Martin and Neely Henry lakes
Water sports popular on pair of major lakes
Partnership for Tomorrow • St. Clair County Economic Development Council • 19
partnership for Tomorrow
Charting Success Together
An Initiative of the St. Clair County Economic Development Council
Creating jobs, increasing wealth and improving the quality of life for St. Clair County residents.
An initiative of the St. Clair County Economic Development Council