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Aerospace Development targets Atmore

By By Michael S. Hill
Advance Staff Writer
If you build it, they will come. At least that's what Atmore Mayor Rodney Owens is hoping.
Owens met with Tim Huddleston of Alabama's Aerospace Development Center Monday to discuss the possible industrial development of the Atmore Municipal Airport. Huddleston is Governor Siegelman's advisor on aerospace affairs.
The land here at the airport has been surveyed and divided into 10 lots that are more than five acres apiece. The goal is to draw aerospace companies here to fill the lots. The city will retain one of the lots to develop hangar spaces for storage and repairs of commercial and private planes. The development of the airport could be the key to Atmore's financial future, according to Owens.
Owens said the industrial grant Atmore secured in May was the first step in developing the airport. The grant will allow Atmore to build an access road to the airport from Highway 31. The access road will enable businesses to begin construction.
Later in the day, Huddleston and Owens met with the Atmore City Council at City Hall for a workshop.
Huddleston explained to the council the opportunities available through the airport's development.
Expansion of the runway would be necessary to accommodate large commercial jets, such as a 737. Huddleston said the runway, currently 4,952 feet, would probably need to be stretched to 8,000 feet and be adjusted to fit weight specifications.
Huddleston also if Atmore makes these changes to its runway, it could be in line for a regional, or commuter, jet manufacturer, which would provide many new jobs to the area.
Councilman John Watkins asked Huddleston about the difficulty Atmore might have in filling new jobs.
Huddleston and Councilman Jerry Gehman both cited the high unemployment rates in the surrounding counties of Monroe and Conecuh, and that people would be drawn from those areas to fill open slots.
Owens said the high-tech jobs created in Atmore will raise the bar for pay in the area, as well as the standard of living.
The engineering work has been completed at the airport, and the next move would be to build the access road. Owens said Atmore is waiting for the Alabama Department of Transportation to give a notice to proceed, and then construction of the road will begin. The DOT will oversee the road's construction.