“We’re experiencing slow, steady, measured growth. Sometimes, there’s a certain level of impatience with that, but I think it’s a good way to serve this community,” said Oneonta city manager Ed Lowe in a brief interview sandwiched between breaks in a meeting on broader aspects of economic development last week.
Lowe unintentionally summarized the results of three interviews – his own and two others not yet conducted at the time of that comment. Pretty good trick.
The Blount Countian spoke to Lowe, Blount County-Oneonta Chamber of Commerce executive director Amy Wilson, and Blount County Economic Development Council executive director Don Mitchell last week to get a sense of economic momentum in the county. The picture that emerged was along lines of Lowe’s words – steady, sustained growth with occasional modest flares of economic energy that seem to bode well for the future. Here are highlights.
Lowe’s ruminations on the city
• Wallace State. “We’ve been vocal about our alignment with Wallace,” he said. “A lot of our potential investors are very aware of that market. Wallace’s customer base of students is very attractive to them and it makes us more attractive to them. That’s a very important indicator for the future.”
• “We’ve had discussions with new fast food franchises, nothing we can talk about yet, but we’ve got other restaurant projects in the works, too. I feel confident – in fact, I will predict – we’ll have three new eating venues here by Christmas. Yeah, you can quote me on that.”
• “We’re seeing a slow, steady rise in tax collections and business licenses. Homebuilding is on the rise with 12 new residential building permits in the last year.”
Mitchell’s update on business recruitment
• West Blount area has three significant projects moving forward: (1) Power Systems Sentinel Technologies will relocate from Gardendale. The 19,000-sq.-ft. building initially estimated at $1.7 million will employ up to 10 initially, more next year at substantial salaries. (2) The 12,800-sq.- ft. Campbell Towing facility will provide wrecker and mechanical services to over-the-road commercial vehicles. It is expected to be complete before year’s end, expanding its services to the residential market as well. (3) A travel center, consisting of a large-scale fueling station, fast food restaurant, and retail space is projected by the developer for construction at the I-65/ Ala 160 intersection with schedule to be announced later.
• “If my prediction comes through, these projects will feed other developments in the area – maybe even including a grocery. Some of these businesses are interested, they just haven’t wanted to be the first to make a move. Residents will be delighted to see developments like this, because frankly, they want to spend their money in Blount County.”
• “The I-65 corridor is a target area for second and third-tier suppliers for automotive manufacturers. The U.S. 278 corridor is a good area for a different kind of automotive-related suppliers, like Choice Trailer in Snead which manufactures utility trailers. “
• Wrapup: “The two-year college campus here and the associated technical training programs it brings with it is crucial to attracting manufacturers. They want to know if there is a college providing technical and workforce training where they’re going to locate. There’s so much money available to colleges to develop technical training programs needed by employers.”
• Overall outlook: “It’s improving. In general, many businesses are having a good year. Right now, Blount County is definitely showing a gain in hiring.”
• In the you-didn’t-ask-but-I’ll-tell-you-anyway department: “Zaxby’s will start breaking ground before the month’s out,” Mitchell said.
Wilson’s reflections on retail development
• “One good sign is that local people are investing in the community. For example, there’s Bart Luster and his Pounders restaurant downtown and the Wood Fire Grill in Cleveland. “
• “Oneonta doesn’t meet some franchises’ requirement for a large dine-in restaurant, but there is a need for dine-in places, and local people are beginning to see that the county can sustain them.”
• “Local people are making huge investments in services. For example, Three Little Miracles has moved in where Darlene’s was and Redeemer Church is buying Interiors by Design. New startups include Special Creations, Sand Mountain Pest Management, Alabama Pediatric Services, Alabama Portable Restrooms, Blackwood Crossing Nursery, Allegiance Point Cleaning, and others.”
• “ I think we’ll see more of this. I think there’s going to be a lot of activity the rest of this year and next year. The county is starting to work together, and it’s starting to pay off.”