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Clifton: Look for growth in forestry industry

Economic development is “all about building relationships,” according Rick Clifton, county economic development director.

That was only one point touched on by Clifton, who spoke to members of the Andalusia Lions Club Wednesday. Clifton also explained his belief that the forestry industry is going to see new growth in south Alabama

“Forestry is poised to take off – take a look at the re-opening of the plant in Evergreen,” he said. “When you look at the economy and the need for wood picking up, it means good things.”

Clifton spoke about the August announcement that forest products company Weyerhaeuser Co. would re-start production in its Evergreen plant effective immediately after a four-year closure due to previously weak wood products demand in North America.

“(The forestry industry), that’s only one of the areas that things are happening in,” he said. “Locally, we work very hard to develop relationships that translate into good things for Covington County. We take a lot of heat about economic development trips, but it’s at those places where you build relationships that put you into touch with the people making the decisions. If you don’t go, you have zero chance of landing that company.”

Clifton said one area that hurts Covington County in attracting new businesses – including retail and manufacturing – is the lack of housing. For years, city officials have tried see high-end apartment complexes established. Clifton said Thursday, that project is ongoing.

“What economic development boils down to is being ready when people call,” he said. “The lack of housing has really hurt us. Companies want to bring people here to work, but there isn’t anywhere for those employees to live.

“We have to maintain contacts with different companies so that they know about Covington County when a project comes up,” he said.

He said local leaders are still working with a developer to build a new apartment complex that would ease the housing burden for newcomers.