Fort Payne’s economy is proving to be resilient

The Fort Payne economy is getting a boost from an expansion at Plasman, a plastic fabrication manufacturer. The Airport Road facility is one of four locations the Canadian company operates in the United States. DeKalb County Economic Development Director

Jimmy Durham announced this while asking the Fort Payne City Council to approve a new 10-year tax abatement, which they approved.

Despite the positive development, some at City Hall are anxious about the economy due to many businesses limiting their hours due to a shortage of restaurant and hospitality sector workers, but Durham said this is happening everywhere.

Plasman already invested $27.3 million and employs 252 people, while the new project commits $13.2 million to add 55 more jobs. A second abatement covered under the same resolution concerns a 50,000 square foot structure behind its plant that Plasman plans to lease from Wayne Hill Construction, which erected it on speculation.

“What this means as far as the city goes is an abatement on non-educational expenses of $105,000 [and] the City will be impacted on sales tax of approximately $208,000,” Durham said. “The school system will gain $158,560 over a 10-year-period. The economic impact from this will be about $17.6 million that the city and county will receive from wages for direct and indirect labor and materials. It is a significant benefit over the cost.”

Durham said Plasman now has operations in nine countries but chose to expand in Fort Payne.

“They like and enjoy it here and feel like the city’s been good to them,” he said. “I think they’ve been good to the city as well.”

Durham used the occasion to comment on the economic state of DeKalb County since pandemic disruptions took hold in March 2020.

“We’ve had over $140 million in investment over the last couple of years,” he said. “That’s good considering everything that’s happened. Back in 2011 with the hosiery mills [shutting down], our unemployment rate was 11.4%. Now it’s at 2.4%, and at the height of the pandemic, it was only up to 4.5%, so we’ve been really fortunate. Overall, the labor force grew by 44 jobs as of August, so we are just about back to where we were before the pandemic. We do have more job openings because of the expansions we’ve had.”

Durham thanked the Council for its pro-business attitude enabling economic development to flourish.

Council member John Smith asked Durham if there was a plan to fill job openings as restaurants are no longer opening at night due to a lack of staff. He is concerned sustained closures will be detrimental to the economy.

“At the local level, we are going gang busters and bucking the trend, but I think the labor shortage is going to be detrimental to us if we don’t do something,” Smith said. “If they start closing businesses, Fort Payne is in trouble.”

“Everybody is already in trouble,” Durham said. “It’s not just Fort Payne. It’s like this everywhere.”

He said he just returned from Detroit, where restaurants are closing on certain days of the week “because they can’t get help. It’s not just us. I’m in my third week of trying to get somebody to put up sheetrock.”

Durham said schools play an important role by creating career pathways in vocational fields in high demand, encompassing not only jobs in construction, electrical and plumbing but also “electric vehicles, because that’s the future of that industry. We also don’t have many people who can work on or service drones. We’ve got one of the top school systems in the state in our offerings to students that has almost eliminated absenteeism because we have something every kid would like to do.”

In other business, Mayor Brian Baine talked the Council into adopting software for citizens to report things like potholes or abandoned vehicles to City Hall from their smartphones. Rather than subscribing to the SeeClickFix app, which costs $5,000 per year for just five employees to use, the alternate technology will be embedded in the City’s website at a setup cost of $1,500, then $99 a year. Baine said they can eventually migrate to SeeClickFix once they know how to effectively use such a system.

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