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CCEDC courting pilot-training company, 50 jobs

Leaders of the cities of Andalusia, Opp and the Covington County Commission have agreed to be cooperative in the amount of lease payment they’ll accept for the twin hangar complex in order to secure a new tenant and bring in new jobs to improve the local economy.

Covington County Economic Development Commission Chairman Rick Clifton and consultant Ronnie Kearns have been working to locate a new tenant with jobs at the hangar complex at South Alabama Regional Airport.

More than two years ago, the cities of Opp and Andalusia and the county commission each refinanced a portion of South Alabama Regional Airport’s debt. Any lease payments made to SARA minus 5 percent for maintenance is divided among the three entities.

Currently, the county commission pays $35,106.67 per month on the portion of debt it refinance. The cities of Opp and Andalusia are only paying interest on their debt, which is $10,726 monthly for Andalusia and $9,616.35 for Opp.

In 2021, the cities of Opp and Andalusia will begin paying principal on their debt service, which will increase payments to $26, 560 a month for Andalusia and $20,4735 for Opp.

With those numbers, it would cost $53,500 to meet the debt service in 2021.

The county has moved the hangar complex to the top target site in the county and PowerSouth has worked with CCEDC to brand promotional items for the complex.

Clifton said the problem is that to get the $50,000 to $70,000 a month lease payments locally, it would have to be an industry with a government contract. So, far they have not been successful in securing one of those.

They have had some success talking to some commercial prospects, but they would not be able to pay $50,000 plus in lease payments.

“I talked to the mayors and the chairman,” Clifton said. “They are all in agreement we need to get someone in the hangars. Our idea is to meet with the groups on the commercial side and find out what it will take to get them here.”

Clifton said the entities have agreed to take less than monthly debt service costs to get someone in here.

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson was present for a portion of Thursday’s airport authority meeting and said the city would do what’s reasonable.

“I would rather give up some portion (of the lease payment) to get the hangars occupied and get jobs,” he said.

County Commission Chairman Greg White, who was out of town and unable to attend the meeting, said Thursday afternoon that while he could not make the decision by himself, he thinks the county should be aggressive in economic development.

“This is a private company, who will be here for many, many years, not unlike Shaw Industries,” he said. “Private companies are long-term investments and we need to be more aggressive.”

White said that with no tenant being in the hangars, the county is already covering the cost of the lease payment monthly.

Clifton said one of the potential tenants – a pilot training facility — could sign a seven to 10-year lease and bring more than 50 jobs.

“The area would benefit,” he said. “There’s a shortage of pilots. I got another new news blurb about it today. “

Clifton said the company could necessitate an increase in housing and potentially an extended stay operation.