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Governor: City in hunt for auto supplier

By By Paul Keane
Publisher
Governor Don Siegelman let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, announcing on Wednesday that he has been speaking to three auto-related companies about possibly building plants in one of four locations in the state – with one of those locations being Atmore.
While holding a press conference concerning the still-disputed election results from the night before, Siegelman on Wednesday told reporters he had spent part of the day talking to three auto-related companies about the possibility of building plants in Alabama. He said one company was considering the Montgomery area, another was looking at north Alabama and the third was interested in either Gadsden, Atmore or Mobile.
In a related matter, Atmore Mayor Howard Shell recently learned that Atmore has been given U.S. Foreign-Trade Zone status, a major coup in attracting new industries to the industrial park being developed along I-65 by the city.
In a letter from Greg Jones with the Mobile Foreign-Trade Zone Corporation, the mayor learned of the designation that puts Atmore in a solid position to benefit from the Hyundai plant being built in Hope Hull.
The letter to Shell states: "…I am writing to reiterate one message that I hope you understood clearly: A Hyundai supplier that locates its facility anywhere in the Atmore area will be eligible to enjoy Foreign-Trade Zone status. Furthermore, depending upon the circumstances, there may be more than one means by which Zone status on behalf of the Hyundai supplier can be obtained."
The mayor said the announcements are welcome news to Atmore, although he says he doesn't want to get hopes up too high until any type of formal announcement is made.
"Because of the property we've acquired along the interstate, we have been put in a position to be in the running for these suppliers," Shell said. "We feel that our big advantage right now is location, location, location. We have the interstate access right there, we are close to a port in Mobile and we have a lot of good things going for us.
"And we've worked hard over the last few weeks with Greg Jones on getting the Foreign-Trade Zone designation. It's a very complicated process, and we're fortunate to be one of the few areas to be chosen for this designation."
The Foreign-Trade Zone designation means that any supplier coming to Atmore could apply for – and likely receive – the same designation, helping that company enhance its competitiveness and productivity. The designation is a definitely drawing card for potential industries, most experts have said.
Shell said he could not speak about which company the governor was referring to, as negotiations for that plant have been handled on the state level as of now.
Many companies looking to relocate utilize industrial recruitment firms, thereby keeping the company confidential until an announcement is made. That helps in making sure that property prices aren't improperly inflated and that problems don't develop between the company and its current location.
Shell said the city is willing to give any industry a tour of the city and its facilities, and the development of the industrial park could start in the near future. At Tuesday's City Council meeting, the Council will be voting on some easements and other necessary matters to help start the development of infrastructure at the site purchased from the Department of Corrections.
Shell said any speculation on new industries coming would be just speculation, and that any listing of the number of jobs that could be provided would be pure rumor at this point as no industry has announced plans to come to Atmore.
The mayor did say he feels Atmore can compete for some of the industry being brought to South Alabama as a part of the Hyundai package.
"The city has put together an incentive package that is competitive," he said. "A part of that is the Foreign-Trade Zone status that we've been able to obtain. We will also negotiate on land prices and we have some tax incentives and utility incentives that we can offer a company that I think makes us attractive to industries coming to South Alabama."