Mega-Site Receives $3 Million for Phase 2 Site Preparation Plan

Commissioners reveal Phase Two of mega-site prep plan, get donation from Norfolk Southern
Miranda Prescott
The Gadsden Times
November 17, 2021

Etowah County Commissioners announced during their regular meeting on Tuesday that the Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site soon will be moving into Phase Two of the major site preparation plan.

This new phase, according to Commission President Jamie Grant, will be funded by a $3 million donation from Norfolk Southern, a longtime partner of the project in conjunction with the county and the state’s Growing Alabama Credit Program. Grant thanked the railroad and the state for helping make the improvements possible.

The funding from Norfolk Southern will allow the pad size of the site to be extended to 100 acres and will include a new road that connects Canoe Creek Road North and Wesson Lake Road. It adds another access point to and from the site, and also will include tree removal from the new pad and Interstate 59 to prepare the section for future development.

“The site improvements have resulted in increased interest from companies and site selection consultants,” said Economic Development Director Marilyn Lott, “Ten requests for information have been received this year, with an average of 1,500 jobs and $2.5 billion in capital investment.”

Lott added that the investments made by Norfolk will allow the site to become more competitive and more marketable. “We’ve definitely seen the benefits from the Phase One project,” she said, “It’s just a matter of time before we see significant economic growth in this region.”

The partnership with Norfolk Southern on the project began in 2020, when the company provided $2.7 million through the credit program. In Phase One, 70 acres were constructed and made pad ready. This also included a rail-served site, moving natural gas lines, installing railroad crossings and extension of the site’s industrial access road.

“Rail is a key component to long-term success of the site, where we provide sustainable and efficient transportation of freight,” Chris Ingram, group vice president of industrial development for Norfolk Southern, explained.

The mega-site is county owned and includes more than 1,000 acres. It has earned Alabama Advantage Site designation and Norfolk Southern acknowledges it as one of their “prime sites.”

“The site prep plan is part of a recruitment strategy to attract an industry with a large number of high-quality, high-paying jobs by being prepared to offer a development ready site,” said Lott. “With a shared vision and collaboration among community leaders, I believe the mega-site will generate significant economic growth in the region.”

Commissioners authorized another agreement for the mega-site for professional designs from Goodwyn Mills and Cawood as part of the second phase.

They thanked Lott for her involvement with the project, saying that she has done an “outstanding job” marketing the site for potential prospects and fostering relationships with the state.

“We appreciate her service to Etowah County and her work bringing us forward,” said Commissioner Joey Statum, “A lot of things are happening with the mega-site and this commission as a whole, and I really foresee something happening sooner than later.”

Photo: Construction during phase one site prep project at Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site

Much work has been done at Mega-Site

Much work has been done at Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site
Donna Thornton
The Gadsden Times

Heading into the Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site from either direction, there's a bit of a drive before anyone can see what's going on at the certified AdvantageSite for potential industrial development.

From the Little Canoe Creek side, there's a drive through the woods before the wide expanse that's been cleared is visible, as heavy equipment lumbers on the site in ongoing work to make the property as ready as possible for whatever industry might locate there.

Before the work began, Etowah County Economic Development Director Marilyn Lott said, all the property looked like the woods that lead into it.

This conceptual rendering shows where the Little Canoe Creek Industrial Mega-Site is located, and the railroad line and roadways that give access to the site. The site is a 1,000-plus acre plot the Etowah County Commission bought over the past several years, with a plan to create one of the largest sites available in the state for industrial development.

Lott clearly sees some beauty beyond the backhoe work going on. She said she believes anyone with a vision for development will look at the land — when it's better cleared and made more level — with the mountain in the background, and they'll see the potential in the property.

Lott toured the property last week with members of the County Commission and staffers, pointing out for them where construction of a pad is planned, and other features on the property.

Crews worked previously to relocate gas lines at the Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site. The site has three options for gas service at the site. There is a lot to recommend the site to potential industry: the amount of acreage; it has Norfolk Southern rail onsite; it is adjacent to Interstate 59; it has one owner — Etowah County; it's served by Alabama Power; it has 1.4 million-plus gallons per day of excess water capacity; it is AT&T fiber and copper adjacent; and it has three options for natural gas service — Boaz Gas Board with 4- and 8-inch lines onsite; Spire, with 4- and 6-inch lines adjacent; and Southern Natural Gas, with 10- and 12-inch transmission lines 1.25 miles away.

Work continues to clear and flatten the land at the Mega-Site. County leaders are working, Lott said, to give the site even more of an advantage.

She said every dollar the county spends clearing and leveling the land, building a pad and preparing infrastructure at the site is less that an industry will have spend to make the property ready.

That, she said, should give the county an edge when industries come looking for a place to locate.

Etowah Commissioners and other viewed the Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site last week from the access road onto the property, as work continues to prepare the site for industrial prospects. For now, industrial development is slow, Lott said — like virtually everything touched by the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems.

She said when it picks back up, she believes it will come back strong — that people [company's plans] have been pent up for some time and will have money to spent in development and will be ready to spend it.

New substation to be built at Mega-Site

New substation to be built at Etowah County Mega-Site
Times Staff Report
Gadsden Times
December 1, 2020

A new substation will be built at the Etowah County Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site that currently is under development along Interstate 59. According to a press release from Alabama Power, the project would support economic development in the area and provide greater capacity for businesses and industry in the area.

"Alabama Power's new substation will be a major asset to promote with the mega-site's other location advantages," Etowah County Director of Economic Development Marilyn Lott said. "The substation project, in conjunction with the current construction of a 70-acre, pad-ready, rail-served site, raises the mega-site to the next level and puts us in a strong position to compete and successfully recruit a company with a large number of quality, high-paying jobs."

The infrastructure upgrade is intended to improve reliability to large customers stretching from Attalla to Steele. In addition, the release states that that the building of the substation will provide the area with 115 KV transmission sevice, which is coveted by job-creating industries.

“Alabama Power continues to invest in our reliability as well as the communities we serve,” Spencer Williams, Alabama Power Community Relations Manager, said.

Bid Awarded for Mega-Site's Pad-Ready Site

Etowah County Commission awards bid for Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site work
Donna Thornton
Gadsden Times
September 15, 2019

The Etowah County Commission on Tuesday awarded a "mass grading project" bid to Waites Construction of Talladega for work that should make the Little Canoe Creek Mega Site more attractive for industries. The $1,744,713 bid will include construction of a 70-acre pad at the site, as well as a new railroad crossing at the property the county is working to market to industrial prospects. Economic Development Director Marilyn Lott said the work will make the site more attractive to business.

Eventually, she said, a total of $2.7 million will go into site preparation at the mega site — an investment that will save an industry locating at the site time and money, which should encourage industries to consider the location.

"It's really got to help our site be much more competitive," Lott said.

The pad that will be constructed with this bid totals 2 million square feet. Some of the state's automotive plants have a a footprint of about 4 million square feet.

Lott said industries looking at Little Canoe Creek will find a site that's halfway there.

She said ground will soon be broken on the project.

Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison said the county can look at expanding the pad by about 10 acres with funding that will remain for the project.

Click here to view the original Gadsden Times article.

Recreation, culture, activities are important parts of attracting businesses

This article is the third in a series on economic development efforts in Gadsden and Etowah County.

At first glance, the number of parks in a city and economic development might seem like two unrelated things.

What does a business looking to locate in an area have to do with the amount of green space or available playgrounds in a city?

A lot, actually.

While incentives, operating costs, taxes, available locations and other business factors play a large role in an industry’s decision to move to an area, there’s also a more personal aspect.

Things like recreation, shopping, cultural amenities, housing, education, community organizations and more are parts of overall quality of life, which companies also consider when choosing to expand.

Quality of life is an important enough facet of development that it warrants a prominent spot on the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority’s website — "Business in Gadsden" and "Living in Gadsden" are side by side.

"To me, quality of life is really important," said David Hooks, the IDA’s executive director.

Hooks said one of the changes he made after taking the job last year was to put more of an emphasis on those parts of the recruitment process.

"The community as a whole is what makes businesses come here," said Frankie Davis, head of governmental affairs and economic development for the mayor’s office.

Natural resources

In Gadsden’s earliest days, the Coosa River was one of the city’s biggest assets.

Between personal transportation and the shipping of goods, it was an essential part of the growth of a place nicknamed "The Queen City of the Coosa."

Now, city officials say there’s a shift between thinking of the river in an industrial sense and thinking of it in a recreational sense.

While steamboats no longer paddle along the waterway, it’s a focal point for the city that can provide both quality of life for residents and a base for economic activity.

In recent years, the city has invested in Coosa Landing with work at the boat launch and bait shop, an important part of hosting numerous fishing tournaments that have impacts on local retailers, restaurants and hotels.

The city also approved $12.5 million in 2017 for The Venue at Coosa Landing, an event space that serves as both a replacement for Convention Hall and the centerpiece of the development that now includes trails and a boardwalk.

"I’ve lived here all my life, and I used to always wonder, ‘Why don’t we develop the river?’" Mayor Sherman Guyton said during a City Council meeting last fall. "Most cities would love to have a river running through downtown."

The focus on the riverfront is in line with what has been done in other places around the country.

Part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s mission includes work on community development, and in 2016, the agency published a document for small and mid-size cities "struggling because their economies were built largely on a single economic sector that has changed significantly."

As part of those development plans, cities are urged to focus on their unique assets, whether those are academic institutions, infrastructure or natural resources.

For example, Traverse City, Michigan, has put an emphasis on waterfront development because of its location on Lake Michigan, while Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, focuses on both its history and its position where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet.

A glance from the riverfront also will make it clear that the Coosa River isn’t Gadsden’s only natural feature as Lookout Mountain rises from the northwest.

Noccalula Falls is the crown jewel of local attractions, but the city has worked to make the park about more than just the waterfall.

Davis said that after Guyton was first elected to office, work began on expanding the Black Creek Trail system and other areas at the park.

"Investing in Christmas at the Falls and putting that money back into improvements at the falls has paid for a lot," he said.

Hooks said that when people come to Gadsden to meet with the IDA, they are shown what the city has to offer.

"We also point out that you’ve got the river and fishing, but within 15 miles, you’ve got some world-class rock climbing," he said.

Culture and education

Beyond capitalizing on nature, there are a number of other things that could come into play as a business considers where to locate.

Davis said two of the largest things companies look at are the stability of the local government and the stability of the community.

He commended Kay Moore and Downtown Gadsden Inc. for work in maintaining and building a strong downtown business base of local merchants.

Davis also listed other things that help make the city a well-rounded one: The Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts, dance studios, the Gadsden Symphony Orchestra, art galleries, community theater groups and more.

"You don’t see investment in art galleries in a town this size," he said.

Even the quality of local schools is a factor when recruiting businesses.

Davis said he couldn’t emphasize enough how important a two-year or four-year college is, and he said Gadsden State’s programs are some of the best, while Jacksonville State University is within easy driving distance.

He pointed out that the city also has worked with the school system over the past decade on career tech programs that help develop an educated and trained workforce.

Public-private partnerships and the future

"Government can’t make a big business locate," Davis said. "You’ve got to put government where it can support businesses."

Business and community groups have become involved in building on the city’s improvements.

Though the Barbarian Challenge at Noccalula Falls Park is now run by the city, it was started by a private group.

Davis also said groups like the Gadsden Runners Club, the Northeast Alabama Bikers Association and others have spent time, money and effort improving the Black Creek Trail system.

The outdoors doesn’t have a monopoly on activities, though, and other things are key to the growth of a city.

"How do you keep people between 24 and 35 years old in your community?" asked Hooks.

The answer, he said, is night life.

"Every city faces that," said Hooks, who also said that places like Birmingham and Huntsville saw positive benefits from adding bars and restaurants.

Hooks said some places like Chattanooga and Asheville, North Carolina, have focused on portraying a "hip" image in an effort to draw new residents.

"What I think we need to continue to work on is our marketing," he said.

The future also depends on continuing to build on available local resources while adapting to a world and an economy changed by the coronavirus.

Hooks said that before COVID-19, he would have said Gadsden needed a major downtown hotel with event space and a four-year university.

Florence, Alabama, is home to both the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa and the University of North Alabama, but no location is perfect.

"Florence has both of those, but they don’t have an interstate," he said. "You can’t recruit an interstate, but you can recruit a hotel."

While the immediate economic impact of the coronavirus is apparent, Hooks said it also will affect future choices and require a reassessment of what’s needed in a post-COVID-19 world.

It could also change companies’ strategies for locating, given the increase in the number of people working from home, and open the door to new possibilities.

"Companies look for a lifestyle that management feels comfortable with," Davis said. "We had one company looking for an outdoor lifestyle without a big city. And now, a lot of work can be done remotely, especially with the younger generation."

But no matter what the future holds, Davis said improving quality of life remains a part of the plan for bringing new businesses to the area.

"You’ve got to remake yourself while keeping your strong points," he said. "It’s got to be another spoke in the wheel of the overall economic development plan."

Read the original article on the Gasden Times here.