Recap of 2011
As we embark upon 2012, I'll be honest, it's hard for me to be nostalgic about 2011. It's unbelievable that another year has flown by, and while we're being honest, I am glad it went by so quickly. 2011 was a terribly difficult year for some of our businesses, citizens, friends and family members. We lost facilities, jobs, community leaders and loved ones. I could easily count on both hands of why 2011 caused turmoil for economic development but I can also answer why 2012 is going to be a great year!
Let's start with the not so good news:
Knauf Insulation: The day the company closed it's doors, and laid off over 146 associates, it impacted us all. These were the people that we knew, that had been there for over 20+ years. Several local companies asked us to receive resumes for them and we were impressed by the individuals who came in our office and touched by their stories. It's hard to not get a lump in my throat now, as I am typing this.
MPTech: Filing for bankruptcy in early 2011, MPTech America was one of the key suppliers we targeted during our heavy automotive supplier recruiting days. Today the 250+ locals are still working there as the bankruptcy court sorts through debts, documents and rulings. MPTech's assets were bought out by a consortium of companies with strong ties to AJIN USA. The CCDA and the County are both being diligent about the assets, the incentives and the commitments that were made by both the locals and the company and we continue to keep a close watch on the project agreement. AJIN in my eyes, came in and "saved the day". While some may disagree with me, the former MPTech may very well emerge from this a stronger more solid company in 2012.
Commercial Spring & Tool (CST): Another year has come and gone and CST has found itself yet again unable to occupy the facility they are currently leasing from the City of LaFayette. Cancelled customer contracts due to the economic downturn have plagued this company and project. CST still remains committed to one day opening it's doors in LaFayette, and has continued to make monthly lease payments ahead of schedule. Will 2012 be the year, that they rebound back?
Project Activity: Industrial project activity was sluggish for us during 2011. Retail activity was steady and at times high, but end results were not favorable to us. One industrial project that had chosen a site in LaFayette as its last Alabama location kept us busy and optimistic that we were going to add another 200+ jobs, but chose a location in a neighboring state just a few days after the new year. Retail still remains challenging as we doggedly search for the right retailers that will be successful in our area, based on population, housing, median household income and local people's shopping patterns and habits.
Now for the good news:
Local companies still continue to prove that over 75% of new jobs in a community come from existing industries and their expansions. It's critical that we as a local community continue to improve our relations with our existing industries and small businesses.
Leehan America (former Daeki America): While changing its name in 2011, Leehan continues to expand and add capacity. Quickly becoming a well-known name brand in the automotive industry, Leehan announced an expansion of over 70,000 square feet, 51 new jobs and $3.2 million capital investment.
AJIN USA: AJIN continues to grow by leaps and bounds and has quickly grown a solid reputation in the automotive world. This global company has much more to offer to the U.S., the Southeast, and particularly Chambers County. There are many more products and processes AJIN has to offer, they are going to be one to watch. Currently they employ over 500 associates, and with their additional expansion announced in early 2012, plans are to top out at 600.
Daedong HI-LEX of America (DDHLA): Despite minor setbacks with their facilities located in Japan due to the tsunami, locally Daedong Hi-Lex has been performing at a record pace and plans to continue their growth right here in Chambers County. Announcing 50 additional jobs and a $3million expansion in 2011, DDHLA has exceeded all projections set forth in our project agreements.
Saehaesung Alabama: Saehaesung's current location in Andalusia is extremely successful, but nearly impossible for them to supply KMMG. Working with the CCDA and the City of LaFayette over a span of 11 months, Saehaesung found a home in the former Frontier Yarns Spinning Mill. Over 100+ local people have been employed and Saehaesung has invested over $7million in their Chambers County facility.
MWV: Just recently announced a $14million machinery and equipment expansion, allowing them to manufacture additional packaging products. MWV as a global company and as a local industry has done a tremendous job remaining competitive in the packaging and paper products sector. Locally we must continue to find ways to support MWV's business model and help in any way we can to continue to expand as nearly 75% of their workforce resides right here in Chambers County!
Existing business support from the CCDA: The departure of Bruce Emfinger from our office in 3rd Quarter 2011 was bittersweet. While Mr. Emfinger and his financial expertise that he brought to the CCDA will be missed, his departure allowed me to evaluate the office, the staff and the goals we set for ourselves. Kimberly Fuller happened to land at the right place at the right time. Coming to the CCDA on a temporary contract as Family Support Coordinator, Ms. Fuller quickly submersed herself into what makes our community great. The people and our businesses that are here are important to her and she stands ready to assist any local business with needs they may have. Business licenses, sales taxes, utility rates, poor infrastructure and roads and a sluggish local economy are problems that are plaguing our local businesses right now. She's aware, and she walks the walk and talks the talk. I knew I had made the right choice to restructure the office and not re-hire for an Assistant Director but rather a "Foot Soldier and Advocate for our local businesses". Learning economic development has been a baptism by fire for Ms. Fuller but our local businesses have learned to love and trust her and know that she is out there everyday fighting for them and their success.
Process Development Corporation: Announcing in early 2012, PDC came to our office during the week of Thanksgiving in 2011 looking for a place to call home. We found them one at the Shawmut Mill. Now mind you, a lot of renovation had to take place, and I do mean a lot. Safety codes and regulations have plagued us in getting this facility ready to open. They came in and hired 65 local people and those people are impatiently sitting at home waiting for the doors to open. Let's hope that the punch list is complete this week and that March will be the month that our unemployed local residents can once again find pride in working and being compensated for their hard work. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the owners of the Shawmut Mill Facility. They have invested a tremendous amount of money into the rehabilitation of the 58,000 square foot portion of the Mill. Growing pains are never easy nor fun, but those growing pains, will pay off in the long run. I look forward to continuing our relationship with the developers of Shawmut as I know more opportunities will arise.
By: Valerie Gray