Economic dip hits Red Level

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, September 8, 2009

There have been no takers on Red Level’s industrial park — a fact Mayor Mike Purnell attributed to the state of the economy.

Tuesday, Purnell said the small town, with a population of about 560, is “in desperate need of revenue.”

“We’re making it,” he said. “We’re able to pay our bills. If we didn’t have the water system to sustain us, it’d be tough. I can tell you though we’re in desperate need of revenue. All of our sales tax revenue is gone — 70 percent, I’d say, to Wal-Mart.

“With the economy the way it is, these small towns — like Red Level and others across the nation — have been hit the hardest,” he said. “There’s no bailout for us.”

Almost a year ago, town officials announced the purchase of a 32.5-acre site with highway frontage on State Hwy. 55, in the hope it would bring an economic boom to a town that previously boasted a thriving furniture store, grocery store and bank.

Purnell had previously stated when Barrow Furniture “pulled out” of Red Level, it “pulled the rug out from under” the town, taking with it a large chunk of its sales tax revenue. In the years following, the town’s only supermarket, United Super, closed its doors.

Now, all that remains is the bank and a small general store.

“What we need is an investor, someone who sees the potential of Red Level,” he said. “When we first announced (the purchase), there was a bit of an interest. Then things started going downhill with the economy. No one was investing, anywhere. Red Level is no different than any other small town in the U.S.

“We’re not drying up, but we’re not prospering or progressing either,” he said.

But Purnell and the other town officials haven’t given up. They hope a recovering economy and the soon-to-be-completed four-laning of State Hwy. 55 to Interstate 65 will allow that “one person” to discover not only Red Level, but also all of what Covington County has to offer.

“Common sense is going to tell you that when that four-lane is finished from Georgiana on down, it’s going to increase traffic,” he said. “And what do you see when you drive along 55, you see that sign telling about our economic opportunity.”

Purnell said he hopes the site will entice a company who will market on the increased traffic flow along the highway, such as a convenience store or truck stop.

“We want some type of commerce to call Red Level home,” he said. “We’re not hopeless. We’re not dying. We’re just suffering.”

Town officials continue to work with the Covington County Economic Development Commission (CCEDC) to “get the word out” about Red Level, Purnell said.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Red Level is a great place to live,” he said. “Our people care about their community and their neighbors. We all want this to be our home and we’re going to work hard to see that it not only survives but (also) succeeds.”