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Building ready to occupy

There's a "monster" of a building just off County Road 61, and it might soon have a tenant, according to Malloy Chandler, president of the Butler County Industrial Development Authority.

The 50,000 square-foot "spec" building can be up and functional for a new industry in as little as three months, said Chandler.

"We have a verbal commitment for a company to take half of the spec' building, and are working out financing details now," said Chandler. "We don't have a commitment on the other half although we've shown it to some companies."

Chandler said he envisions four or five industries with up to 1,500 employees in the future of the 152-acre industrial park located a stone's throw from US Highway 31, just north of the Greenville city limits.

"We're working on the final stages of an application to the Economic Development Authority, a division of HUD (Housing and Urban Development) for a $1.5 million grant to fully develop the park with water, sewer, watertanks, streets, curbing and drainage," he said. "That grant would have to be matched with $300,000 of local money."

Chandler said the need for modern high-traffic telecommunications is also being addressed and fiber optics will be available to the park.

"The data and phone line capability is a little way out, but our work is promising at this point," said Chandler. "We have another potential tenant for the park that would not occupy the spec' building that would require a lot of telephone lines and data capability.

"We're not at the point of having a good handle on the data traffic to be able to sit down with a company and say how much bandwidth or fiber we need, but we know that if the data needs are there, we can get them handled."

Chandler said funding is the most critical need facing economic development in the county.

"The $1.5 million EDA grant will provide funding for infrastructure for the park, but we need the money to provide the matching funds and we also need money to pay for additional buildings that we could lease to companies," he said.

Chandler said several options are being explored to raise additional funds for economic development in Butler County.

"The commission and the community are more united today for economic development than they have ever been," he said. "An ad valorem tax is one option."

Chambers County recently added a tobacco tax for economic development, Chandler said.

"By adding 10 cents to every pack of cigarettes, we could raise about $200,000 or $250,000 to invest in economic development in the county, and it would not run any money to Montgomery.

The existing building was financed with a zero-interest loan from Pioneer Electric and the Alabama Electric Cooperative, said Chandler.

"The loan is payable in full the day somebody occupies the building," he said. "The building hasn't cost the citizens of Butler County or Pioneer members anything since Pioneer borrowed the money from AEC at zero interest, and then loaned the money to the Butler County Industrial Development Authority at zero interest."

Having to pay for the buildings when they are occupied eliminates some valuable options for attracting potential tenants, Chandler said.

"Let's say a company wants to lease a building for five to seven years," he said. "We've got to pay the up-front cost of the building when the company occupies it. Most companies want to lease for five to several years, and we can't recover our cost over that period."

Chandler said the willingness of the city of Greenville to take the sewage and treat it for a fee is an example of what he called a "new commitment to working together for economic development."

"We're going to construct the line from the park to the end of the city's sewer lines, and the ownership of the line will be split between the Butler County Water Authority (the part outside the city limits) and the Greenville Sewer and Water Board (the part inside the city limits)," he said. "Just that small fact that the water board is willing to take the sewage and treat it for a fee is going to save about $1.5 million since we won't have to construct a redundant service."

Chandler said he believes the industrial park and spec' building put Butler County ahead of counties its size.

"We've got another 50,000 square foot building in storage, and ready to build," he said. "We're ready."

Chandler said a study that he commissioned recently by a professor who regularly does work for the Alabama Development Office indicates that a $3 million investment by the county in a company considering moving here would mean an additional $20 million to the county's economy.

"A point we really need to make is that an investment in economic development is not just throwing money away," said Chandler. "The payback is in not just payroll, but sales taxes, retail sales, grocery sales and additional jobs in other areas."

Everybody in the county benefits indirectly, he said.

"Image Entry coming to Georgiana is an example of an excellent return on an economic development investment," Chandler said. "The Georgiana Industrial Development Board, City of Georgiana and Butler County Industrial Development Authority invested about $75,000 in fixing up the building for them, and today there are 270 new jobs in Butler County."