Bringing jobs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 28, 2004

Butler County has seen its fair share of industries leaving, but city, county leaders and residents hope recent economic developments prove the area is rebounding.

Leading the charge on the development is Rick McLaney, executive director of the Butler County Commission for Economic Development, who sees the big new industrial buildings in the area as a sign of what’s to come.

&uot;All along I said I wanted to see some big buildings housing big industry in Butler County,&uot; he said with a chuckle.

Of course, with the new Hwashin America and Hysco plants, an additional 600,000 square feet of space is being added to the landscape. There also is a new Wal-Mart Supercenter under construction and McLaney has a right to chuckle.

These changes have all come into being since McLaney took the helm at the BCCED.

Who is Ricky McLaney?

He is a family man, raised in central Montgomery County in the Sprague community. There he lives with his wife of 28 years, Lorraine, on his family’s land.

They’ve raised three daughters, Tyler, Susanna and Kate.

It is easy to see when you enter his office at the historic Greenville Depot that he is a University of Alabama fan and also a graduate.

He spent 27 years working for the Alabama Development Office that directs and aids companies looking for locations to settle. McLaney is quick to point out that many times, people start out at the local level and then move to the state level.’

&uot;I don’t know of many people who went the opposite way,&uot; he said referring to his leaving the state for the local post. &uot;By beginning at the state level and then coming here, it offered me a different perspective. It made me appreciate what these cities and towns go through in recruiting industry.&uot;

Race for Tier Ones

It’s no secret that Hyundai opening a plant with 40 miles of Greenville is big economic news. The promise of suppliers quickly saw Greenville land two, but was it a surprise? Not really to McLaney because he knew they had to be aggressive.

&uot;This was a chance of a lifetime to grow this community,&uot; he said with great pride. &uot;We had Mercedes and Honda locate up north and we could not get any of their suppliers to locate this far south.&uot;

On the day that Hyundai announced it was coming to Alabama, the city of Greenville erected a billboard on I-65 and the Southern Boulevard welcoming the company. Also, in that day’s Montgomery Advertiser, a full-page advertisement also welcomed the company.

&uot;Putting up the billboard and taking out the full page ad caught a lot of people off guard,&uot; McLaney said. &uot;It was a bold step, but we were not going to sit back and let this opportunity to pass us by. We were going at it as a unified front.&uot;

He said because of these actions, Greenville’s name was out in front of others. He said on more than one occasion, he knew of members of the Korean delegations asking where Greenville was located because they saw the billboard.

Ongoing work

McLaney said many might think once an industry locates here that it is the end of the story. However, he said the work goes on showing two growing stacks of various folders pertaining to the two suppliers.

&uot;One you reach an agreement, you’re not done with them,&uot; he said. &uot;In this case, we had to help them get in touch with appropriate power companies, city services and get them accustomed to driving on the right side of the road.&uot;

Five P’s

McLaney said his work in economic development is based on what he calls &uot;the six P’s for successful economic development.&uot;

Those are politics, patience/persistence, product, property and people.

&uot;In this type of work at the local level, you have to be aggressive,&uot; he said. &uot;It is important to be business oriented, personable, a deal-maker and knowledgeable of a company’s needs.&uot;

He said someone in his position must be knowledgeable about the state and keep incentives comparable or better than other municipalities.

&uot;You also have to be willing to recruit the smaller industries just as aggressively as you do the larger ones,&uot; he said.

Another P is patience.

&uot;You have to know when to be aggressive and you have to know when not to be,&uot; he said. &uot;Sometimes it’s a simple matter of timing. One industry may close, and you may know of another that is searching that would fit in well in an existing location. It’s in the timing.&uot;

Then there is the matter of the product, or the third P.

&uot;To be successful, you have industrial development parks that are controlled by a local authority or ID board,&uot; he said. &uot;With this control, you’re not trying to recruit industry without a unified group.&uot;

Another P is prosperity, and McLaney said it is important for companies to realize they need to expand.

&uot;Companies know that they are in business to make money and that they have to spend money to do that,&uot; he said.

Next, there is the fifth P, which are people.

&uot;When recruiting an industry, you must be assured that there are people in the community to do the job,&uot; he said. &uot;You have to know where the trade schools are and what they offer. You have to network with other economic development officers and state agencies like the ADO.&uot;

The final P is prospects. McLaney said his contact with the ADO and other agencies allows him to network and find out about what industries might be looking for a place. Which he said then goes back to being aggressive and going after it.

Cool networking

Because of his networking, McLaney is pretty tuned in at the state government level. He began at the ADO running statistics and analyzing numbers, and worked his way through the ranks before leaving to come to Greenville.

&uot;I really enjoyed working at the state level,&uot; he said. &uot;I have probably worked with two-thirds of those in the Alabama Senate. That hasn’t hurt us here having those contacts.&uot;

He said the current cuts being made to those government agencies he deals with now worry him about future endeavors.

&uot;One of my concerns is that all these cuts are good to a point,&uot; he said. &uot;But we have to realize that if we cut funding to offices like the ADO whose people get out in the communities, it is going to get harder to do that. We can’t take away a state vehicle and expect a person to travel from end of the state to the other on recruitment trips.&uot;

He said if cuts continue to be made, he sees it becoming more difficult in finding people to do that type of work.

&uot;Accountability is our new watchword, but we have to remember not to tie the hands of people trying to bring in more jobs and boost revenue,&uot; he said.

On the horizon

McLaney repeated he believes Greenville and Butler County will experience greater growth in the coming years. He said as long as the local government decision makers stay aggressive this area would be surprised by all it can get.

&uot;Growth is coming here,&uot; he said. &uot;How much and how soon is just a matter of patience.&uot;

He said he also thought Greenville would make an excellent model of how to welcome a new industry from outside the U.S.

&uot;I want to compliment the people in this area for the way they have accepted the people moving here from Korea,&uot; he said. &uot;They have shown great hospitality in the way they have welcomed them.&uot;

It’s easy to see the pride he feels in getting the two suppliers, and he expressed his excitement over the next big venture he’ll help broker.