530 jobs announced in 2013Published 5:15pm Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Looking back on the past year, Franklin County Development Authority executive director Mitch Mays said it’s one for the history books.
In the past 12 months, there have been a total of 530 new jobs announced for Franklin County – something that Mays said is unprecedented for this area.
“I’ve talked to people who have been involved in economic development in this area for many years, and I think the last time we had job growth anywhere close to this is when Pilgrims Pride came in 30 years ago,” Mays said.
“This has been a really good year for Franklin County and we’re excited about what this means for future economic development in our area.”
Mays said he attributed the county’s economic development successes in 2013 to teamwork and a spirit of cooperation between local and state officials as well as business owners and officials.
“The high number of jobs that have been announced in our area is a perfect example of what can happen when people choose to lay aside any differences and just work towards the common good of the county as a whole,” Mays said.
“Our mayors, our state legislators, our county commission, and even our governor all came together on various projects we worked on throughout the year, and the county will benefit tremendously from that spirit of cooperation.
“We know that if a plant is expanding in Red Bay, it will help the whole county; if 200 jobs are coming into Russellville, it will help the whole county.
“Getting on the same page and working together has brought big things into Franklin County over the past year.”
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow said he was proud of how so many officials had come together to help bring much-needed jobs into the county.
“The team that has been assembled to recruit industry into this part of North Alabama is second to none,” Morrow said.
“Mitch, Sherry, the development board, and the city and county officials have done a tremendous job marketing our area. I’m just a very small part of this team, but I’m proud to be a part of it.
“We had big things happen in Franklin County in the way of economic development this year, and I believe we are poised for even more growth in the future.”
Sen. Roger Bedford agreed.
“This has been a tremendous year for Franklin County,” Bedford said.
“These jobs that have been announced for our area will be a much-needed boost to our local economy and a much-needed relief to many people who have been unemployed.”
Mays said economic development was evident across the board in the county in 2013 with job announcements, expansions, and infrastructure improvements coming from Phil Campbell, Red Bay, Russellville and Hodges.
“This wasn’t just a big year for one city in our county,” Mays said. “This was a big year for just about everyone.”
The first job announcement for 2013 was toward the beginning of the year when CNC Stonecrafters in Phil Campbell announced an expansion that would provide 10 more jobs at their facility.
“This might not seem like a big announcement, but anytime a company can expand, it’s good for the county and good for the business,” Mays said.
“Those are 10 people who might have been unemployed who are now able to provide for their families and support the local economy.”
In May, longtime Red Bay industry Sunshine Mills, Inc. announced a 25,000 sq. ft. expansion that would add two new buildings at their plant and 25 new jobs over a two-year period.
Mays said Sunshine Miss, Inc. has two other locations in Tupelo, Miss., and Halifax, Va., so it was an honor for the company to choose to expand at their Red Bay location.
The Red Bay City Council approved tax abatements for the company to make the expansion more cost-efficient, and Mays said that kind of teamwork with the city and business community working together is exactly what is needed in these types of situations.
“These abatements save the company money and it allows them to re-invest that money in the expansion project that will help hire additional employees,” Mays said.
“This was a great way for the city council to show their support for a company that has invested in their community for many years. We appreciate them being willing to work together with us to encourage industrial development and progress in Franklin County.”
Bobby Forsythe, Red Bay’s mayor at the time of the announcement, said he was proud to see the longtime company thriving in their city.
“It’s always good to see local businesses expanding and doing well,” Forsythe said.
“This council tries to be pro-business and we are proud to be able to help Sunshine Mills any way we can.”
Three months later, Franklin County had their biggest announcement of new jobs when Innovative Hearth Products (IHP) announced on Aug. 1 that they would be expanding their local manufacturing plant and adding 245 new jobs.
The company, which produces indoor and outdoor fireplaces, fireplace inserts, free-standing stoves, gas log sets and fireplace accessories, held a groundbreaking ceremony on Aug. 2 for the 210,000 square-foot expansion that will house the manufacturing and distribution for the eastern half of North America, as well as the national customer center.
Mark Klein, CEO of Innovative Hearth Products, said during the groundbreaking ceremony that he was proud and honored to announce such exciting news for the state of Alabama and the city of Russellville.
“We have a great team here at our Russellville plant that always has a positive attitude,” Klein said.
“The location of the manufacturing and distribution is key to a company’s success and we felt this area was a great fit for us. We are looking forward to building our future in Russellville.”
Klein said at least 245 permanent, full-time jobs would be available with the company as soon as the expansion was complete, which is expected to be in May 2014.
In addition to company and local officials, Gov. Robert Bentley was also in attendance for the groundbreaking and said this announcement was great news for North Alabama.
“[Projects like this] are part of what we are trying to accomplish in this state,” Bentley said.
“This plant is going to create jobs that will help the lives of the people in this area.
“Everyone wants to be able to provide for their families, and the creation of good jobs has a multiplier effect because it helps everyone.”
Bentley also said he had no doubt the 245 new jobs would be filled by local people who will get the job done.
“The best workers in the United States live in the state of Alabama,” Bentley said.
“That’s the thing that helps me sell industry all over the world – our people. We have an environment in Alabama that is conducive to bringing jobs into this state.”
Mays said the IHP announcement was huge for Franklin County because there will be many local people who will find employment thanks to this expansion.
“I am so pleased that IHP chose to expand their plant here in Russellville,” Mays said.
“In this economy, 245 new jobs is a huge number, and having that many formerly unemployed people gain employment would boost the economy.
“Adding 245 new jobs represents a significant payroll impact of millions of new dollars flowing into the local economy, which translates to people being able to purchase homes, cars, groceries and other necessities right here locally, which is huge for our area.”
Mays pointed out that the IHP expansion was the result of many people working together and will not only help the local economy but will be a big boost to industrial development and recruitment in the future as well.
“IHP’s decision to take their 110,000 square foot plant and add an additional 210,000 square feet to house their manufacturing and distribution center for the eastern U.S. and their national customer center shows a great deal of faith in our local leadership and our workforce,” Mays said.
“This decision shows that we here in Franklin County are willing and eager to work with our existing industry to find viable options for expansions and growth and that we are just as eager to work with new industry to expand into our area, so there are obvious marketing benefits from this expansion that could open up more doors in the future.”
Grissom agreed that the company’s announcement was the result of what he has promoted from the beginning of his campaign: teamwork.
“When I first started my campaign for mayor of Russellville, there was a lot of talk about what we needed and one of the main things people always said was that we need more jobs in order for the town to prosper,” Grissom said at the groundbreaking.
“This is the end result of many people working together as a team to make this a reality.
“There were many people who collaborated on this effort at the city, county and state levels, and I am excited about what this means for our citizens.
“This decision by IHP is an investment in not only our city and county but in our people as well. Our people make Franklin County a great place for industries like IHP because they are highly skilled, trainable, and ready to work.”
The state agreed to pay $1 million in incentives, which will be paid over a five-year period if the company maintains 245 employees over that time.
Local officials agreed to pay $300,000 over a four-year period if the company maintains that same 245-employee level. The local money will be split between the city of Russellville, the county, the industrial development board and the Franklin County Community Development Commission.
IHP announced last week that they were closing operations at their Union City, Tenn., plant and moving all operations to Russellville.
“Russellville was either going to lose this plant or win this plant and we decided to win it,” Mays said.
“We appreciate Mark Klein, Mike Madden, the governor, and all the state and local officials who had a hand in this expansion.”
Currently, the construction for the new expansion is on schedule to be completed by May of 2014.
But as much as progress is needed, oftentimes there are other issues that arise that must be addressed, one of which is infrastructure issues.
One of these issues was the anticipated high traffic volume due to the expansion of the IHP facility, which is located on Lawrence Street.
To help with these types of issues, Mays said the FCDA has assisted in securing $1.7 million in industrial road access improvements in Phil Campbell, Vina and Russellville throughout the course of the past year.
The grant for Russellville provided $977,800 to create three lanes and install a red light at the intersection of Lawrence Street and Alabama 24 near the IHP plant.
Russellville councilman David Palmer said the improvements would extend from the intersection to the northwest entrance of the plant on Lawrence Street.
“This was something that was very necessary for this area because we will have a large increase in truck traffic coming in and out of the IHP facility,” Palmer said.
“Plus, we are expecting 245 jobs to come from this expansion, so we will also need to accommodate for that increase in traffic as well.”
Grissom said when the traffic from the new apartment complex on Lawrence Street was taken into consideration, as well as traffic coming from the John G. Blackwell ballpark and the two preschool centers on Lawrence Street, the road improvements were more than necessary.
“The safety of our citizens is a top priority, and with so much traffic coming and going on this section of Lawrence Street, we needed to make these improvements to make this area safer as well as more accessible,” Grissom said.
“We are very excited to receive this industrial access road grant. This is a great deal of money and we are glad we will be able to use it to improve our community.”
Other grants that were secured went to create an industrial access road off of Highway 13 into the Phil Campbell Industrial Park and turn lanes and decelerations lanes on Alabama 19 going into the Vina Industrial Park.
“These grants along with the grants for the new water tower and water/sewer infrastructure in the industrial park will open up new opportunities for the town of Phil Campbell,” Phil Campbell Mayor Steve Bell said.
“We look forward to the opening of the new industry and the others that will follow.”
Mays said infrastructure is a major component in recruiting industry and attracting companies to the area.
“A car salesman can’t sell cars that aren’t on a lot,” Mays said.
“If we don’t have the right infrastructure in place or the ability to have certain services, we aren’t going to attract as much industry. Good roads, good schools, and the right facilities are all important in economic development.”
There are several available buildings in Franklin County that have been built with the express purpose of attracting industry into the area and several buildings that have been vacant that are available to market to businesses.
After months of searching for a buyer for the empty Franklin Homes property in Russellville Industrial Park #2,
Southern Energy Homes finalized closing agreements on Oct. 11, to acquire the 27-acre property and accompanying buildings that will house the Southern Homes division of the company, which is relocating from its current location in Double Springs.
“This was a good move for us because we were looking to expand, and building a new facility would have taken a year to a year and a half to complete,” Southern Homes division manager David Brewer said.
“This facility is already available, and it fits all of our needs. It is a bigger, better, newer facility than the one we are currently in, and it will be better for our team members in terms of safety because of the availability of newer technology.”
The facility purchased by Southern Energy Homes, which is a custom manufactured housing provider, will provide 176,000 square feet of production space in addition to a 21,000 square foot frame shop.
The facility also provides all new building jigs and equipment, high ceilings and wide aisles that assist in promoting safe and efficient building practices.
With an anticipated production capacity of 12 floors daily, company officials said the Russellville facility supports Southern Energy Homes’ company-wide vision of world class.
“This acquisition expands Southern Energy Homes’ production capabilities in Alabama and allows for continued growth in this market,” said Jim Stariha, Southern Energy Homes’ chief financial officer.
“Russellville was also a good choice because of its proximity to our current facility in Double Springs,” Brewer added.
“We appreciate our team members and want to help them in this relocation process. It was a hard decision to leave Double Springs, but we believe this will be a good move.”
Mays said the company relocation and expansion would bring 250 jobs into the area.
“This announcement is huge for the city of Russellville and Franklin County,” Russellville Mayor David Grissom said.
“We are fortunate and thankful that Southern Energy has chosen Russellville for their expansion. This is huge for our local economy and we look forward to a long term relationship with Southern Energy.”
No official date has been set for the opening of the Russellville facility but Brewer said he hoped to be operating by late spring or early summer in 2014.
“Franklin County has been extremely fortunate over the past year and we are thankful to all the companies, officials and people who made it all possible,” Mays said.
“We hope to take what we have accomplished in 2013 and use it to help us continue to promote economic development as we move forward into the new year.”