The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 29, 2012

Development leader sees more industrial opportunities in 2012

By Adam Smith

— While Huntsville has impressive plans for annexed property in southern Limestone County, local leaders continue to work toward landing more industries.

Earlier this month, Limestone County commissioners announced its incentives package for Pennsylvania-based steel company Carpenter Technology Corporation, which plans to build a 400,000-square-foot facility just north of the Robotics Technology Park. The company plans to hire up to 200 works in its first phase and as many as 40 indirect contract jobs could open up.

In exchange for guaranteed job targets, Limestone County will pay the company $1 million over three years toward capital expenditures, beginning in 2014. The city of Athens has also agreed to run gas pipe to the facility at an estimated value of $375,000 and build a $3.5 million substation to provide electricity.

The state of Alabama also agreed to incentives in the amount of $1.75 million toward capital expenses, contingent on hiring goals.

Carpenter will also receive about $22 million in sales and property tax abatements, though the company will ultimately pay more than $15 million in educational taxes over 10 years. Ground will be broken on the $500 million project in April and is expected to be up and running by 2014.

“The fact they’re coming here is really good for North Alabama, and then you can trace that down to the Limestone County and Athens area,” said Tom Hill, executive director of the Limestone County Economic Development Association. “The company has had a long history of being successful, and it could lead to other growth opportunities.”

Hill said the type of alloy materials manufactured by CTC can be used for fan blades in jet engines and landing gear parts. He said local leaders would be interested in approaching some of CTC’s suppliers about possibly opening facilities in Limestone County.

“We hope to ask if they would like to move closer to their source,” he said. “We have a great quality of life in this area and a lot available land.”

In December, the city and county teamed up to purchase 130 acres of property located near Airport Road and Wilkinson Street in Athens for $1.15 million. The property adjoins the Elm Industrial Park, and leaders believe it is a prime piece of property for industrial development.

Local leaders also have a friend in Montgomery in the form of Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens. A jobs bill passed by the State House included an amendment proposed by Williams that would offer incentives to data processing companies to locate in Alabama.

He said a data-processing center might spend $100 to $200 million on a large facility and computer equipment. But over time, he said, that company may spend millions more to upgrade equipment and facilities.

The amendment will extend tax incentives to those companies based on how much they spend. If a company spends $200 million, tax breaks are extended for 20 years. If the company spends $300 million, tax breaks are extended for 30 years.

In addition to landing CTC, officials can also look forward to future expansions at office furniture manufacturer Steelcase and automotive sensor maker Electricfil in Elkmont.

In November, local leaders worked together to grant a tax abatement to Steelcase worth $37,500 in sales taxes and $8,800 in property taxes. In exchange for the abatement, Steelcase is investing $2 million in the Athens location for new equipment for a sixth paint shop and will hire up to 50 new employees.

Electricfil is planning an $11 million expansion over the next three years that will add an undetermined amount of jobs, but will establish the Elkmont location as the North American headquarters for the company, which is headquartered in Beynost, France.

Custom Polymers, located in the Elm Industrial Park, added about 65 new jobs through an expansion last fall. The company now occupies 250,000 square feet with additional land available for further expansion, the release said.

In July last year, the city voted to invest $1.3 million into the business so it could expand and add up to 40 jobs.

In January, the Business Council of Alabama nominated Turner Medical Inc. for the Dream Big award, the winner of which will be announced in May and presented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The BCA named Turner Medical Small Alabama Manufacturer of the Year in 2010.

Considering the positive growth and accolades Hill said local leaders are optimistic about landing other industries this year. He said the region’s many amenities —interstate, rail, airport and water access — make Limestone County a prime location.

“We have superior logistical areas,” he said. “I think we’re on the right track and hopefully it’s going to continue.”