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Fox plans Marengo industry survey

Debra Fox addressed the Demopolis Industrial Development Board at its meeting Tuesday morning, talking about how to help retain businesses, relating what she heard at a seminar in New Orleans recently.

Fox, the executive director of the Marengo County Economic Development Authority, said she wanted to do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of the local market in coordination with the Demopolis Industrial Development Board and the Linden Industrial Development Board. Fox said she wanted to begin the analysis soon.

“I want to look at those results, and do a report on those results,” she said. “From there, I want to start taking those individual industries and address those issues. That’s something I’d like to start working on at the first of the year, because I think it’s critical.

“We’ll be surveying both industrial development boards, the county economic development office and our major industries. We’ll tally the results and look for any major gaps, any weaknesses that we will need to address, any opportunities that we need to take advantage of and threats that we need to overcome.”

Fox said business retention is vital and offered suggestions to ensure that.

“We’ve got to treat our existing businesses and industries like our customers,” she said, “and we’ve got to make sure that our customers are taken care of. Somehow, we’ve got to provide resources, either financial — whether it’s bond issues or helping them find financing or technical assistance.

“Another thing that’s big right now is advocacy, looking at those common issues that they’re all facing right now. One of the big things that came out that means a lot to your businesses and industries is eliminating slow response time to problems and issues. That could be anything from licensing to permitting to information and research about a market.”

Fox added that “red flags” or early warning signs for business retention included declining sales or employment, larger non-local corporate ownership, recent ownership change, leasing of property, unbearable regulatory burdens, union contract expirations, lack of export focus or international focus, loss of longstanding supplier contracts or relationships and relocation of top managers or corporate officers to other locations.

Fox also addressed the need for better signage at the Demopolis industrial parks.

“I think it’s money well spent, and a cheap way to have a big impact,” she told the board. “I think there needs to be a vertical sign at both of those entrances (at the South Industrial Park) with panels on either side.

“It doesn’t have to be lit from inside and cost $50,000. It needs to be a nice, vertical sign that says, ‘South Industrial Park’ and has a panel for each industry, with their logo on it, if they want it on there. We want everyone to know they’re here, when they ride by. The employees see it, the owners see it, potential customers see it. I think the existing sign is too small. It needs to be very visible.”

Chair John Laney said the board would gather more information and discuss it at a later board meeting.

Buzz Sawyer of the City of Demopolis Airport told the board that the airport has gone through several improvements, showing marked change since he began there 20 years ago. He told the board that there is now an automatic weather report available at 289-1466. He said he wants to make it attractive to potential businesses seeking to locate at the Airport Industrial Park.

The board will host an Industry Appreciation Luncheon on Thursday, Jan. 8, at noon at Napoleon’s Restaurant.

The next scheduled Demopolis industrial development board meeting will be on Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 7:30 a.m.