Will we benefit from steel plant?

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 18, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &8212; The decision by a German steel maker to locate a $3.7 billion steel plant in Mobile County has sent ripples of excitement throughout the state.

Gov. Bob Riley has heralded it as the biggest economic development deal of Alabama. Because of ThyssenKrupp&8217;s decision, approximately 2,700 new jobs will be created.

In short, the news means great things for Southwest Alabama.

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And, as with any development of this size, it could mean economic boosts to other areas as well, including Marengo County.

Mayor Cecil Williamson said the governor told a meeting of municipal leaders that West Alabama should be prepared for great things.

Most other leaders seem to agree that this area will benefit from ThyssenKrupp&8217;s plant near the small town of Calvert, which currently has a population of only 500 people.

But exactly what benefits come our way is still the looming question. Most seem to agree that the most immediate impact of the plant will be infrastructure upgrades.

Williamson said state officials have told her that the project to four-lane Hwy. 80 from Clarke County to the Marengo County line will be moved up from the Alabama Department of Transportation&8217;s five-year plan to their three-year plan.

John Laney, president of the Industrial Development Board, said improving highway infrastructure running north and south is key, especially when considering access to the Mercedes plant east of Tuscaloosa and the Nissan plant just north of Jackson, Miss. Another major development that could be a possible customer of the steel plant is a Toyota plant to be built near Tupelo, Miss.

Councilman Woody Collins believes the infrastructure improvements in this area will be the biggest impact.

Jay Shows, executive secretary to the IDB, said Demopolis&8217; location will benefit the area&8217;s ability to draw new business.

Shows said that while Demopolis and Marengo County may not be the most centrally located, the presence of rail and river are a big plus. He said what the IDB and city must do now is to anticipate the needs of businesses who might look to Demopolis.

Shows said the off-loading facility has been on the IDB&8217;s five-year plan but that they are now trying to move it up to the top of their wish list. They are bringing in state officials in June to meet with them about building such a facility.

Laney agrees that the river will be key to Demopolis. He said ThyssenKrupp chose their location in part because of the river.

While the off-loading facility is a lacking part of the city&8217;s offering, Shows said the industrial parks are ready for business.

So what kind of companies would the ThyssenKrupp plant help lure to this area? The mayor seems to think that the City of Demopolis is poised to get a Tier 1 supplier, a designation for larger industries that work predominantly, if not exclusively, with the plant they are feeding to or from.

Laney and Shows do not put much faith in the idea of a Tier 1 industry coming to the area, but they seem confident that the city could draw a Tier 2 or 3 industry.

Laney said the IDB would be &8220;aggressively calling on businesses that will be second and third tier clients.&8221;