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New gas district CEO talks prices, economic development with BCMA

Greg Henderson was introduced as new president and CEO of Southeast Alabama Gas District to members of the Butler County Manufacturing Association on Tuesday night.

The membership also took time to recognize outgoing CEO Jim Smith during its summer social and dinner held at the Greenville Depot. Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon thanked Smith for his years of service with the SEAGD and presented him a plaque honoring his accomplishments.

&#8220Gentlemen is truly the word when we think about Jim Smith,” said McLendon.

Henderson gave a brief history of the SEAGD. He said it was founded in 1952 as an economic development corporation for south Alabama and Greenville was one of the first 14 cities to join.

Since its inception Henderson said the SEAGD has strived to remain a force for economic growth for its member municipalities.

&#8220In the last five years, we've spent $2 million on economic development,” he said.

Henderson referred to the area's biggest catch - namely the Hyundai Automotive Plant in Hope Hull - and the resulting spin-off of suppliers that landed in central and south Alabama. He said when the gas district first learned news of Hyundai's intentions to invest in Alabama, they immediately seized the opportunity, helping to lure potential suppliers to cities like Greenville for a sit-down with city and county officials.

The result?

Henderson said 11 of the first 14 Hyundai suppliers announced plans to build in south Alabama.

&#8220In all honesty, very few of these plants use much natural gas,” he said. &#8220But our thinking was in the long term. What these jobs do are bring in people, which in turn lead to more rooftops, and then more natural gas use. Your location has given you the opportunity and you've taken it and ran with it.”

Henderson also discussed natural gas prices and offered little speculation as to what those prices would be when cold weather arrives.

&#8220It changes quicker than any other commodity out there,” he said. &#8220It's too volatile to guess right now where it's going.”

He admitted that Wall Street had plenty to say about existing prices.

&#8220It's not supply and demandŠwe can always buy gas. We've never not been able to buy gas,” he said. &#8220It's the perception of supply and demand. A hurricane forms in the Gulf and immediately there is panic.”

Henderson said counties like Butler, Covington, and Crenshaw are facing renewed challenges in competing for outside industry. Hyundai has lowered unemployment so much that the workforce is nearly tapped out.

&#8220We have 3 percent unemployment in Covington County,” said Henderson. &#8220That's basically full employment.”

Ricky McLaney, Executive Director for the Butler County Commission for Economic Development agreed.

&#8220No doubt we have to have more people moving into this area,” he said.