SHORTER, Alabama – Officials in Macon County believe their county is poised for growth thanks to its strategic location along Interstate 85 and a roster of industrial sites that have strong logistical advantages including rail access.
In fact, Macon County last year became the first in Alabama to receive a CSX Select Site designation. CSX says its Select Site program reviews the most capable manufacturing and distribution development properties along its network that can rapidly utilize freight rail service. The program is meant to help communities identify and prepare sites that can compete for new investment and jobs.
Macon County’s site is a 277-acre property along the Hyundai-Kia automotive corridor along I-85, which connects Montgomery and Atlanta. The Macon County site is one of just a dozen sites in the nation to receive the Select Site designation, according to information on CSX’s web site. (A site in Montgomery recently joined the list.)
The Macon County site is in close proximity to Auburn and Tuskegee universities, offering the prospect of collaboration for a company that ends up locating there. The county already receives research support from the two universities, as well as agricultural extension support.
Macon County’s location and logistical assets are advantages. The county is just 15 minutes from Montgomery, home to the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama plant that’s producing vehicles in record numbers, and 18 minutes from the Auburn-Opelika area, which boasts a cluster of auto suppliers and other manufacturers. I-85 runs the length of the county, with five exits. The CSX rail line runs parallel to the interstate and offers several points of access.
AUTO SUPPLIER GROWTH
In early December, South Korea-based Taesung announced plans to invest $6.6 million to build and equip a manufacturing facility in Shorter that will launch the international company’s entry into the automotive sector. The project will create 70 jobs.
Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said the Taesung project “shows that rural Alabama and the state’s Black Belt counties can compete and win new investment and jobs.”
Directly off the interstate in Shorter, automotive supplier Halla Visteon Climate Control Group (HVCC) has been in a growth mode. The firm operates a 290,000-square-foot manufacturing and warehouse facility that has expanded twice since it opened in 2005. The company manufactures heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units and front-end modules for various automakers.
John H. Edenfield Jr., human resources manager at HVCC, said the company plans another expansion at its Macon County site next year to facilitate the production of charged air coolers. The company, which now has 487 employees, will have no difficulty filling additional positions, he said.
Edenfield said AIDT – the top-rated workforce development arm of the Alabama Department of Commerce – has assisted the company with training, screening and interviewing potential employees. He added that the City of Shorter also has done an excellent job supporting the company.
“They have always pitched in and helped whenever we needed it,” Edenfield said.
HVCC has returned the favor through community involvement, adopting a sixth grade class and providing for its needs, and helping with the town’s annual Liberty Celebration.
Joo Yoon, HVCC’s managing director, said he expects more companies to locate in the vicinity of his company’s plant. “It has been a good experience here,” he said.
UPGRADING WORKER SKILLS
Shorter Mayor Willie Mae Powell said the town understands the importance of having a skilled workforce and is taking every available opportunity to make sure residents get the job training they need. Alabama’s Ready to Work program, a career pathway for adults wanting to improve their abilities, has provided training for workers in Macon County.
“Our goal is to have diversity in our economy and as new businesses find a home here, we want them to know they have a pool of skilled workers they can pull from,” Mayor Powell said. “We don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket. We need a wide variety of commercial and industrial development to make our economic base strong.”
Macon County has several industrial sites available for development with direct interstate and rail access. It has certified industrial parks and available sites at four of its interstate exits, including large tracts with CSX rail access. The sites stretch from 3 to 5 acres and up to 300 acres.
There are two mega sites for large industry – one off Exit 22 with 750 acres and another off Exit 38 with 2,500 acres that has rail, natural gas, water, sewer, a 5,000-foot paved airstrip and an access road. Macon County also has an airport just off I-85 with a fixed based operator, fuel service, a lighted runway, a maintenance facility and T-hangers.
“Macon County is virtually surrounded by growth and commerce. Commuting to and from surrounding communities can be done in 20 minutes with significant savings in cost of living and labor,” said Harold Powell, town clerk for Shorter as well as the treasurer for the Macon County Economic Development Authority.