“They have indicated they would like to do work for other companies, which is one of the reasons they chose to locate here,” Knight said. “They are within 80 to 85 miles of the new Toyota plant, the Honda plant in Lincoln and the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance.”
The Alabama Technology Network owns a building inside Bevill Industrial Park that provides temporary office space for companies like Amtex and classrooms for training by Bevill State Community College and the Alabama Industrial Development Training program, which is handling worker hiring and training for Amtex.
Knight said the 53,000-square-foot building Amtex is leasing also has 14 acres of property that would allow for expansion and there is enough adjacent property to allow it to more than double its current size, if necessary.
Growth stories are not uncommon in Bevill Industrial Park, which is now home to around a dozen companies, including several different operations for Fontaine Trailer Co. and Honda supplier Nitto Dinko. Companies in the park have invested more than $35 million and employ more than 500 people, Knight said.
The Jasper Industrial Development Board began investing in Bevill in the late 1980s but the park sat mostly as undeveloped land for nearly a decade until the city put in a speculative building that was purchased by a company. Alabama Power Co.’s speculative building program added two more spec buildings that have been filled and the city invested nearly $2 million in a fourth that is now being prepared for Amtex.
“The industrial development board and the city have been aggressive and determined to be prepared for any jobs and growth from I-22,” said David O’Mary, chairman of the Jasper Industrial Development Board.
Knight and O’Mary said the two entities work closely together because the authority needs sites to market and the city is willing to invest to bring in new jobs and investment.
“It really took the vision and the patience of the Jasper Industrial Development Board and the support of our partners to get us to where we are today,” said Knight, whose organization is charged with marketing sites in the county and recruiting prospective companies to those sites.
Thanks to a $7 million investment by the Jasper Industrial Development Board, the authority now has 405 acres to market to companies. Next week, officials will break ground on a $3.5 million access road off Industrial Parkway leading into the new Jasper Industrial Park.
Alabama Power’s speculative building program has already funded a 50-acre prepared site in the new park. Knight said all of the infrastructure is in place for the new park, which will have access to both Burlington-Northern/Santa Fe and Norfolk-Southern railroad lines.
It also will have access to Corridor X, the future I-22, via the Industrial Parkway connection.
Patrick Murphy, head of economic development for the Birmingham Business Alliance, said the new Jasper Industrial Park is more than a boon just for Walker County. It also fills a critical need for the entire Birmingham metro area, he said.
“We don’t have any industrial sites this large in any other county in our region,” Murphy said. “Having a 400-plus acre site to market to prospects will allow us to compete for projects we have not been able to go after before.”
Knight said though the new park is being marketed as having up to six different sites, the entire 405 acres are connected and could be sold to a single mega-project that needs the space.
Its access to rail and the interstate will make the new park attractive to the companies expected to be drawn to the metro area by a new Norfolk Southern railroad hub in McCalla, Murphy said.
“For those companies that will want to ship a percentage of their products through the McCalla facility and then transport them to markets to the north, I think this location is going to have a lot of appeal,” he said.
With I-22, travelers can go from Jasper to downtown Birmingham in slightly more than 30 minutes. That link will help diversify the work force in Walker County, something Knight said is critical.
“We were hurt when mining took a downturn. We were hurt when textiles took a downturn,” he said. “Diversification is important to us going forward.”
Along with sites left in Bevill Industrial Park and the new Jasper Industrial Park, the Walker County town of Cordova has more than 54 acres in what is known as the Cordova Docks property. It’s one of the few sites in this part of the state that has a railroad line, operated by Burlington Northern, that is linked to a navigable waterway, the Mulberry Fork that leads to the Black Warrior River.
“We feel like we have a lot to offer,” Knight said. “More companies are starting to discover that.”
Knight said he has seen an increase in project activity since I-22 has begun approaching completion. Several companies have requested information or toured sites in the last six months.
Jasper Mayor Sonny Posey said the prospects eyeing the city are impressive. “We’re getting some good inquiries, including a couple that are off the charts,” he said.