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Attracting industry

Neil Wade, director of the Alabama Development Office, was newly assigned to the top post at ADO when he spoke to the Butler County Manufacturers Association at its quarterly meeting at Chez Camellia on the Green on Monday.

Wade comes to the ADO from Jacksonville, Fla.-based St. Joe Company, where he served as Vice President – Economic Development. He also was director of Alabama Power’s corporate communications office from 1978 to 1990. He then headed up the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama from 1990 to 2000.

Under his leadership, the EDPA was responsible for bringing more than 40 companies to the state, including Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Boeing.

The director was upbeat in his economic development outlook for the state, citing an informative meeting with Gov. Bob Riley prior to Christmas in which the governor outlined some of his ideas for improving the department’s performance.

&uot;I had made a list of things I wanted to talk with him about,&uot; Wade said. &uot;We were halfway through dinner before I brought out my list, and he had already covered half of the things on it.&uot;

Wade said that the debate in the economic development office over how to create more jobs for rural Alabama is still ongoing.

&uot;One of our commitments at ADO is to make sure that we are conducting economic development in the most competitive, efficient way – the way that will create jobs,&uot; he said. &uot;Riley asked me to bring him some recommendations on what changes (if any) need to be made in the job creation process by the end of the year, so that they can be presented to the legislature in 2004.&uot;

Another item on Wade’s &uot;to do&uot; list is to look at the current projects that have been brought into the state and see if any economic development needs exist there.

&uot;In 1992, we started the process in the automotive industry that changed the face of Alabama,&uot; Wade said. &uot;Mercedes came in and really opened doors that were not available before. Now Honda, Toyota and Hyundai have put Alabama in an enviable position in terms of attracting automotive suppliers and other automotive-related companies, even other automotive manufacturers.&uot;

The ADO head man pointed out that Greenville and Butler County also are in enviable positions to attract some of those businesses.

&uot;You are 35 miles from Hyundai down I-65,&uot; Wade said. &uot;You also have a sufficient available workforce with the area’s 10 percent unemployment rate. What could put you in a more competitive position than that?&uot;

Wade said that right now his office is just trying to get its arms around where every project stands and hopes to work toward making the economic development process as easy and as coordinated as possible.

&uot;I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything specific about our programs at this point,&uot; he said. &uot;But we just started looking at them today. We will be meeting with the governor’s office in the morning and this is the first time they’ve really been involved in the process, so we aren’t prepared to give out any details right now.&uot;

For BCMA President Glenn Branum, Wade’s words were welcomed.

&uot;I was very encouraged by what Wade had to say,&uot; Branum said. &uot;He seemed very committed to rural Alabama, and that’s what we need in that office right now.&uot;

Branum said Wade also came across as someone who will be easy to work with.

&uot;The comments he made about Greenville were encouraging,&uot; he said. &uot;We already know those things are true, but it’s good to hear them from someone in the ADO office.&uot;