How area responds is an insight into our future

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 12, 2007

Word that ThyssenKrupp AG has chosen south Alabama as the site of its new, massive $3.7 billion steel mill should have citizens throughout the state beaming with excitement and enthusiasm.

It is another significant sign that officials here understand the importance of economic development and are willing to commit the resources necessary to attract megaplants that provide high caliber jobs and boost quality of life measures for us all.

It is also a sign to others that there is a new Alabama, one with a global presence, one whose workers have earned praise worldwide for their work ethic, their dedicated performance and their key role in a prominent return on investment.

ThyssenKrupp could have gone anywhere. It chose Alabama.

That means 29,000 workers will spend 24 months building a sprawling complex in the Calvert-Mount Vernon area that should be in production in 2010, employing 2,700 of our people on site at annual compensation levels between $50,000 and $65,000. Over a 20-year period, it is likely 35,000 to 50,000 more jobs in spin-off positions will also be created.

Read those numbers again. Let them sink in.

Then, realize Greenville and Butler County could reap huge dividends from what may be the largest economic development success story in state history.

But we can't sit idly back.

Local leaders must aggressively create a plan that promotes our advantages, that reduces or even eliminates our shortcomings, that explains why and how we can be a viable location for direct and indirect suppliers, that suggests the value of sites within 100 miles and on major highway and railroad corridors, that has available, usable land, that outlines the availability of our own solid work ethic, that demonstrates our willingness to do whatever it takes to be a partner in this unique enterprise and that even notes the pleasantries of small town culture and charm.

In truth, we may not be ready.

That only makes our opportunity even better, the need for our commitment even stronger, the sense of urgency more pressing.

Now, while construction on ThyssenKrupp begins, development of the new Greenville and the new Butler County can also begin.

It can be a time to put aside any petty jealousies in favor of speaking with a single, common voice, one that is good for us all, one that recognizes there is much for all to gain.

It can be a time to identify priorities in key areas, to develop a workable plan that addresses solutions rather than gathers dust.

It can be a time to recognize that only when we commit to quality, advanced, challenging educational goals in grades K-12 can we truly take giant steps forward and that only when our post-secondary community college curriculum is built on a platform designed to meet the emerging needs of industry can we, with good confidence, provide the necessary trained workforce.

It can be a time when we evaluate any limitations on daily conveniences and creature comforts that can be altered and improved.

It can be a time when the attractiveness of our entire community - Greenville, Georgiana, McKenzie and all of Butler County - shouts out to all who will listen that our home is not a good, but a great, place to live, to shop, to work and to play.

It can be whatever we choose.

But ThyssenKrupp's decision to choose south Alabama as its north American home can easily become one of the most important and memorable events to happen here in decades.

How we respond to so significant an opportunity in our own backyard will say much about how we see our own future.