Officials: Good things in ‘19

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Existing industries’ growth, planned new developments lauded

Local leaders predict Covington County will continue to see slow, steady growth in the new year.

“If we look at last year, we start with Shaw, and what it means to the whole region,” Covington County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Rick Clifton said. “Couple that with the airport being able to secure some good tenants, and that’s where we start.”

Shaw is in the midst of a $250 million project at the local plant. The project includes construction of new and expanded building assets, and installation of substantial amounts of new manufacturing equipment. The changes will improve efficiency and production as well as ergonomics and safety for the more than 1,000 associates who work in the plant.

At South Alabama Regional Airport, the board has entered a contract with DynCorp to operate in the building previously used by Vector and Standard Aero. DynCorp’s has a five-year government contract to provide maintenance and upgrades to military helicopters, and plans to hire 65 to 80 people in 2019.

The board also has leased its twin hangars to Yulista Holding LLC.

But Clifton said he is equally excited about growth in existing manufacturing operations.

“In Opp, Sonoco, MFG, American Apparel and Global Aerospace have expanded and are looking for people,” he said. “That’s where most economic growth comes, and we plan to concentrate on that in 2019.”

Regional marketing also is a big focus.

“We’ve worked on promoting an eight-county region in Southeast Alabama,” Clifton said. “Grow Southeast Alabama is a website that we’ve developed, and we’ll be doing regional marketing for that.”

In Andalusia, Mayor Earl Johnson said residents should anticipate the announcement of another fast food restaurant locating on the west bypass in the near future.

“It’s very popular with local people,” Johnson said.

He also anticipates the announcement of a large convenience/gasoline store on the bypass.

“We’ll also finish the school project this year,” he said. “That’s going to be a huge uplift for our community to have those two fine facilities.”

Construction for “workforce” apartments designed for working people not yet ready for home ownership is slated to begin in March or April, near the Holiday Inn Express.

“We also have another developer looking at us for similar apartments,” Johnson said. “We’ll know more about that in the next 90 days or so. We are getting some nicer places to live in Andalusia.”

The mayor still hopes to add more upscale apartments to the local housing mix, a feature that he believes would help attract businesses.

“That is our next big cat to skin, and we’ve got to get it done,” he said.

In 2019, the city will continue to develop plans for the First National Bank building, developing the floors above Milky Moos, he said.

“We will continue to put together long-range plans for the museum/art facility at the old Count Darling building,” he said.

In addition, the city is expected to use grant proceeds for a sewerage improvement and resurfacing project, and may add additional resurfacing.

County Commission Chairman Greg White said, “I think the new year will be a good one for Covington County, with the direct impact from the Shaw expansion that will continue through much of the year as well as the jobs to be provided by the two employers opening at SARA and by an unnamed employer that the Commission has worked closely with.”

The county recently agreed to purchase land between the county jail and the Blue Goose for a new business, which has not yet been disclosed.

White also hopes the legislature will take steps to help counties.

“Infrastructure improvement is a significant need for us, so I’m hopeful that the upcoming legislative session will provide some much-needed funding for our roads and bridges, as well as for improved broadband access,” he said.

Opp Mayor Becky Bracke said she hopes Opp also can accomplish a lot in 2019.

“A lot of it depends upon if we get grants,” she said. “We hope to get some projects done, and continue our clean-up efforts. We really need more people involved in the community.”

Bracke said local industries’ expansions are good news for Opp.

“We’re really excited about that,” she said.