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Merger includes two additional counties

By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
Merging resources and economic needs, Coastal Gateway Economic Development Authority and Twin Rivers Economic Development Partnership joined Monday to create a five-county regional authority.
The merger puts Escambia, Conecuh, Monroe, Clarke and Choctaw counties under the same economic development umbrella, with a professional staff and volunteer board. Coastal Gateway CEO Wiley Blankenship announced the merger at a Monday press conference. The authority’s office will stay at Alabama 41 and Interstate 65, and the Coastal Gateway staff will remain in place. Twin Rivers had a volunteer board, but no paid staff.
But Blankenship emphasized that Twin Rivers did not join Coastal Gateway; rather, the merger created a new partnership.
The new Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Development Authority will be the only five-county development authority in the state, Blankenship said.
The merger means the CGEDA now has more spec buildings, industrial parks, airports and available buildings, Blankenship said.
The EDA will also be able to hire a new staff member dedicated to existing industry in the five counties.
Local lawmakers praised the new regional authority.
Hammett believes Alabama needs to continue to attract new manufacturers. While the state has seen good news in recent years — including plans for ThyssenKrupp to build a massive steel plant in Mobile County — other manufacturers have closed.
Proximity to the market and to raw materials is driving Alabama’s success, Hammett said.
U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, said south Alabama is on the verge of great opportunity.
He noted the risks Alabama leaders took to bring auto manufacturers to the state, including borrowing $250 million to lure Mercedes Benz to Tuscaloosa.
The counties in the Coastal Gateway region are on the verge of similar success, he predicted.
Coastal Gateway has nearly 100 investors — including businesses, governments and individuals — who have pledged $3.5 million to the organization. Twin Rivers has pledges of $1.5 million.
Brewton Mayor Ted Jennings said the merger bodes well for the future of the region and for the city.