Officials and agencies from across North Alabama met in Henagar Monday to begin building a coalition to promote economic development and learn more about recruiting industries.
Henagar Mayor Lee Davis, along with District 1 Commissioner Shane Wootten, House Majority Leader Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter and Sen. Steve Livingston, worked to bring the coalition together and invited Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battles as the guest speaker for the first meeting.
The DeKalb County Economic Development Authority and mayors and school leaders from throughout DeKalb County attended to learn more about what they can do to better prepare their communities to welcome more industries to the area.
According to hsvchamber.org, the Huntsville and Madison County area recruited five new industries and saw the expansion of 13 other sites for a total gain of 5,189 jobs in 2018. These include vehicle assembly, a data center, robotics and many others.
There were three main points that Battles discussed Monday: having land ready for industries to move in, making sure those jobs come to communities and having a prepared workforce trained and ready to fill those jobs.
“It’s going to take a regional effort,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us working together to make sure that happens.”
To have a site of land ready to attract industries, Battles said cities need to look at their transportation routes, utilities and completed environmental and compaction studies.
“The challenge is that we’ve got to make sure that as they come in, that the sites are available,” Battles said. “That is the message of today, “yes we can do it.” Even when we’re not sure how we’re going to get there, with these industrial developers we say, 'Yes we can,' and then try to work with them and partner with them on how we need to get to where we need to be.”
Battles said the second aspect is “making it happen” and making sure jobs come to our area.
“A lot of the prerequisites for Tier 3 and Tier 2 [industries] are that they want to be 50 miles away from the plant,” he said. “I think you all are within that 50 mile marker or just a little beyond from the plants, and they also want to make sure they have a good labor market. You all have a great labor market over here.”
Battles said it’s vital for communities to look to their community colleges and technical schools to help develop a competitive workforce.
“One of the biggest things we’ve all got to make sure is that we develop that workforce,” he said. “We’ve got to have a workforce that is not only qualified by going to college, but a workforce that is qualified by technical training.”
It’s also the communities’ responsibility to make their areas attract a workforce that in turn will help the towns grow, he said.
“You want to make sure they see the things that make your communities continue to grow, make them want to be a part of your community, make them want to be a part of North Alabama,” he said. “If we can do that, then we can recruit and develop a workforce here.”
If cities in North Alabama will work together to recruit and expand industries, the whole 14-county area will see the affects, not just the Huntsville area, Battles said.
Ledbetter reiterated the cities need to look to site preparation in order to attract new industries.
“I think the biggest thing to take from this, if nothing else, is working together and seeing this group together and starting this process,” he said. “You've got to have places ready. They’re not just going to show up at your door so I think that’s a good thing to remember.”
Davis said the coalition is still discussing the details of the group but they plan to meet every four to six weeks.