2009: Looking ahead with optimism

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What will 2009 hold for Covington County and its communities?

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson is bullish on the city’s future. Several projects already in the works tell him that “outside business people look at our community and see business potential.”

And that’s good news.

“We’ve got several projects we’re working on,” he said.

One important project for the city is the completion of an industrial access road from Hwy. 29 to the city’s industrial park.

“That one is already funded,” Johnson said. “We will proceed and should be finished this year.”

The road will make it easier for large trucks to access the industrial park, which will make the spec building there more attractive.

“We have a company showing interest in the spec building,” Johnson said. “If we do locate a tenant there, we’ll want to build another spec building. But we need to determine a building niche that’s not out there so we’re not marketing exactly the same thing as Opp and Elba and Troy.”

Opp, also has a tenant lined up for its speculative building.

“We’ve actually got a company coming to occupy the spec building,” Opp Mayor H.D. Edgar said. “It should be here by mid-summer and will employ about 40 people. These are technical jobs that pay $14 to $15 an hour.”

And Edgar, too, believes his city should immediately break ground on another building.

“As soon as we’re finished with this project, we’ll build another 40,000 square foot building adjacent to it,” Edgar said.

In Andalusia, Johnson points to private-sector investments.

Aaron’s recently opened, a portion of the old Wal-Mart building is being readied for Tractor Supply Co., and several restaurants have opened in the recent past.

“We also have a Holiday Inn Express going up on Hwy. 84 East,” Johnson said. “That’s very positive and that’s a big deal.”

Pinnacle Place, LLC, who with Team Management and Development plans to begin construction this year on 150-apartment complex on Hwy. 84 in the area known as “Debro” Hill, also will mean growth for Andalusia, Johnson said. Meanwhile, developers are still shopping.

“We’re talking to one firm from Germany that is involved with the automotive industry,” Johnson said. “We’ll know something in a month or two.”

Continued growth at the South Alabama Regional Airport also is a positive sign.

“I can’t overemphasize how important growth at the airport is to the further development of our community,” Johnson said. “Sierra Nevada is expanding on the north side of the airport. There are three C-130s on the ground as we speak. Vector Aerospace just occupied their new building.

“If you look at the airport, look at the hotel, Tractor Supply, Pinnacle Point, and the access road, that’s a pretty good little plateful in the economic times in which we find ourselves,” he said.

While no one yet knows what benefits counties and municipalities will receive from a stimulus package expected to be proposed by the Obama administration, both Johnson and commission chairman Lynn Sasser hope some of the monies expected to be designated for infrastructure improvement will fund local projects.

“I think it will trickle down to local municipalities,” Johnson said “They’ll probably send the money to agencies like ADECA (Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs) and let them make the decisions.”

Sasser said he hopes that President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus package brings some much-needed revenue for roads and bridges to the county. He said preliminary reports from the state level are saying the conditions are favorable for the funds.