The picturesque scenery on Iron Mountain Road as it meanders through McClellan can fool drivers into thinking the property is just another pretty place. But the former military post has been called the jewel of Anniston not only for its forested hills, but also because of its potential to bring jobs to the area.
The McClellan Development Authority, the regional board group charged with developing the property, came up with a master plan early in 2012. The plan has two areas mapped out for an industrial park and for a research and technology park.
If drivers following Iron Mountain Road north ignore the sign pointing to Alabama 21 and go straight through the four-way stop to the end of the road, the industrial park is on the left. It doesn’t look like much now — a lot of dirt and tractors, the International Automotive Components complex, some dilapidated buildings, fencing and roads. But the development authority invested $500,000 to develop a plan and construction documents to make it an area that industry will find move in ready.
Now it just needs funding to make it happen.
The MDA doesn’t have a steady stream of tax dollars funding it. The development authority has to “kill to eat,” said Robin Scott, executive director, meaning that it generates revenue through sales of property and leases. That money can then be funneled back into making other property marketable. So far, it’s been a slow process. The fiscal year that ended in September is the first the MDA has ended in the black.
It would cost about $13.7 million to bring the plans for both parks to fruition, Anniston City Councilman Jay Jenkins estimates. He’s talked to officials in Calhoun County, Jacksonville and Weaver about banding together to raise between $5 million and $6 million to get the infrastructure done in the industrial park.
“The initial discussion’s been about how we might generate a bond issue to do that,” Jenkins said. “We haven’t figured out all the pieces yet.”
The idea isn’t without precedent. In 1999, a collective of cities and counties raised $17 million through bonds as part of incentive package to lure Honda to Lincoln.
Anniston contributed $1.5 million to the package, Oxford $2 million and Calhoun County contributed $500,000.
“We need to take a regional approach,” Jenkins said. “The value to Jacksonville, the value to Weaver from a residential standpoint from a spin-off standpoint, the value to the county and the value to the city is obvious.”
That value is why Calhoun County contributed to the Honda incentive package and that’s why it would consider contributing to the industrial park’s development, said county Administrator Ken Joiner.
Why work together?
The Honda plant in Lincoln doesn’t directly create sales tax dollars or property dollars for the county, but it did create jobs and jobs are the bottom line, Joiner said. Jobs bring home sales, property development and sales of goods and services.
“Every time you create a job, you create something positive,” Joiner said.
Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis agreed. He said he supports the team approach in developing the industrial park 100 percent.
Weaver is mainly a residential community without an industrial base and it will never be a retail mecca, Willis said. Industrial development in Anniston brings jobs that benefit all the surrounding communities.
“Ultimately if one of us is successful, we all reap the benefits,” Willis said.
Oxford Mayor Leon Smith said the city’s $2 million investment in the Honda incentive package was well worth the cost. At the time, Smith said, the plant was to bring about 3,000 jobs to the area.
Those workers live, work, play and spend their paychecks in area stores and restaurants. The tax dollars collected help build the schools, parks and fund the administration in towns and counties throughout the area.
“It has paid for itself,” Smith said.
Smith, who said he hadn’t attended any of the meetings with Jenkins, said he would be willing to talk, and if another opportunity such as the Honda plant came up, consider another investment.
McClellan, he said, is in a good location and it does have potential. If that potential is realized, all the cities in the area will benefit, Smith said.
Joiner also is looking at the issue from a practical standpoint. Calhoun County doesn’t have a lot of developable industrial property left except in McClellan, he said. The location between I-20, Alabama 21 and U.S. 431 is attractive to industry because of the ease of access and transport. It’s prime property for development, Joiner said.
But an economic development project that large can be difficult for one municipality to accomplish alone. A joint effort, one that reaches beyond city and county borders, can help. It can also appeal to businesses looking to locate in an area, said Don Hopper, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council.
“If you can get that kind of cooperation, it helps market the property,” Hopper said. “It shows industries, the potential businesses, that we’re on the same page.”
The EDC in January made its own investment in the park with a purchase of 58 acres of property. It plans to build generic facilities to market to industries looking in Calhoun County. Hopper said the more move-in-ready the property, the easier it is to market, usually. So, the more work done in the park, the easier it will be to attract buyers, Hopper said.
All the local cities have their own needs. Weaver is looking into floating a bond for much-needed infrastructure work within the city. That will limit its ability to make financial commitments in other areas, Willis said. Anniston has recently taken on bonds for a new aquatic center, the Department of Human Resources building and the new judicial complex. It is also is still paying on the $1.5 million it contributed to the incentive package for Honda. The final payment on that will be in fiscal year 2014, according to the city’s Finance Department. And most local governments are dealing with lower revenues than they saw before the recession of 2008 hit. Sometimes it takes everybody pulling together to make things happen, though, Joiner said.
“You can’t be greedy whenever it comes to growth,” Joiner said. “Whenever there’s a new endeavor we want to be a part of it.”
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.