Friday, January 21, 2005

Coming Back After Being Down and Out

I witnessed a county in Alabama that has made the turn and is again creating new jobs and opportunities after hitting bottom in the late 90s. It all started when they decided to do something about it for themselves.

“The Community Development Foundation (CDF) was organized out of desperation due to the great loss of jobs in Marion County. We had been heavily dependent upon the manufacture of mobile homes with 12 plants employing about 3000 employees and several textile companies. We ended up losing 4500 jobs in all in the manufacturing sector when over 10 plants closed,” said David Graham, executive director of the CDF.

But, instead of throwing up their hands and giving up Marion County (population 31,000) stepped forward and set up the CDF, hiring David who had worked for years in economic development for the TVA and the legendary Tupelo, MS EDC. And, he hit the ground running. In the last four years the county has replaced 1/3 of the lost jobs with two computer tech support centers (I thought CNN said all of those jobs were in India?); a tire cord manufacturer; a mobile home company; and several other smaller manufacturers.

Marion County is well situated, sitting in the middle of the five new auto plants that have been built since 2000 in Alabama and Mississippi. The completion of I22 from Birmingham to Memphis will only enhance their situation. They have the lowest property tax rate that I have seen, only $26,000 for a $5 million building compared to $100,000 to $250,000 that I typically see. They’ve got a lot of things going for them. They’re on the way up!

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