The Value of Teamwork
Rural Dallas County, Alabama finds a successful formula for attracting business.
By Don Hampton
Discouragement could have easily set in for leaders of Dallas County, Alabama. Over a four-year period, the area lost more than 1,400 jobs and faced double-digit unemployment.
But, this rural community refused to idly sit back and watch jobs leave. Instead, it pooled its resources and developed a winning economic development team. As a result, Dallas County is now making up for its job losses and has strong forward momentum.
“The loss of fine companies has been hard on our area,” admits Wayne Vardaman, president of the local Centre for Commerce. “However, we are looking to the future and are working hard to bring in new jobs.”
The future does look bright. Over the past four years, Selma and Dallas County, Alabama have added 965 new jobs. That number may not seem earth shattering to many observers, but to the people of this rural community, it is very significant.
“Even through the bad economy the U.S. is experiencing, we are holding our own,” said Steve Flanagan, co-chair of the county's Vision 2020 campaign. “We have had several industrial announcements and expansions in the last four years.”
Those announcements have come as the direct result of the community banding together to attract business. The unified efforts of the county's economic development team became an official reality in July 2003, when the Economic Development Authority, the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism and Leadership came together under one roof.
The newly formed Selma & Dallas County Centre for Commerce allows the community to focus on the business of creating jobs.
“We feel like we can deliver as an economic development team to get businesses established in our area,” said Vardaman.
The team's work has clearly begun to pay off. On September 5, 2003, Lear, the world's leading supplier of automotive interiors and a Tier One supplier to Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama, announced that it would locate multiple auto supply manufacturing facilities in Selma's Craig Field Industrial Park. The facilities should employ up to 400 local residents. The companies will be making an investment in Selma of approximately $10 million each over the next five years.
Reynosol Corporation, a manufacturer of foam for car seats, is one of the companies.
Another key announcement came from Meadowcraft, a manufacturer of wrought iron furniture. The company plans to expand its operation in the community, creating 125 new jobs.
The American Gum Company is another manufacturer that has chosen Selma and Dallas County. The company purchased 22.11 acres of land and plans to run its operation out of a 36,000 square-foot building on the property.
Reflecting on his company's future success in Dallas County, President Mike Savage said, “Things are looking very positive. Recent interest in our products has been highly encouraging.”
Other announcements over the past four years have included the creation of new businesses (Automatic Welding Services, Composite Technology, Inc., Concord Wax, LLC, Crown Health Laundry Services, Kelly Food Concepts, Klinger Eye Shields, Inc., LP Wood Polymers and Microwave Roasters, Inc.) and expansions of previous facilities and investments (Aerial Application Technologies, Inc., Altadis USA, Inc., American Apparel, Inc., Globe Amerada Architectural Glass, Henry Brick Company, HL-A Company, International Paper Company and Rayco Industrial, Inc.).
All of the new and expanding industry in the area has brought a renewed sense of optimism to a county that had struggled economically in recent years.
Centered for success
“We're centrally located in the state,” said Vardaman. “All of the infrastructure is in place. We have a couple of great industrial parks and substantial quality labor at reasonable rates.”
In fact, Dallas County has an ample selection of industrial sites offering low-cost land. Many of the sites qualify for the Alabama Enterprise Zone program. In addition, most of the county is designated a “Renewal Community,” which offers several benefits for companies including a federal tax credit of up to $1,500 per employee, accelerated depreciation, and elimination of capital gains taxes on the sale of assets held through 2009.
Also, three of the four industrial sites currently in Dallas County are located within the Renewal Community, and all four have Enterprise Zone designation. This entitles companies to special tax credits, tax exemptions, industrial revenue bonds, aggressive commercial lending sources, and favorable financing.
On top of this, Alabama's tax laws are among the most business-friendly in the nation, helping to further reduce operating costs. The county's four industrial parks (Craig Industrial Park, Selfield Industrial Park, Bell Road Industrial Park and South Dallas Industrial Park) have sites ready and available for development or immediate occupancy.
The materials you need
Selma and Dallas County are a prime location for distribution. The area is strategically located within a 400-mile radius of 50 metropolitan areas and a population of 34 million people. Selma is only 45 miles from Montgomery, the state capital.
It is also an area with substantial raw materials, including sand, gravel, clay and timber.
But Selma and Dallas County's greatest resource is its workforce, companies are discovering. With a population in excess of 18,000, Selma retains the feel of a small rural community. But its workforce is skilled and dedicated to excellence.
The county is committed to providing training solutions to keep business moving. Programs include the local Wallace Community College's Training for Business and Industry Program that provides individualized classes for companies, job-readiness instruction offered by the programs Focused Industry Training and Selma Works, and access to the state-sponsored workforce training that provides specialized training at no charge until a plant is staffed.
It becomes apparent that the reason for the industrial growth and creation of new jobs in Selma and Dallas County is the hard work of a team of business professionals. The county's economic development team has pulled together and changed the culture of their community while, at the same time, providing new opportunities for Selma's citizens.
“I see a bright future for Selma and Dallas County,” said Vardaman.
Looking at the result of all their hard work, Vardaman has good reason to be optimistic.