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McLaney updates Lions on economy

Times are tough all over, but there are also glimmers of optimism in the gloomy financial forecasts.

So said Ricky McLaney, director of the Butler County Commission for Economic Development (BCCED). McLaney updated members of the Greenville Lions Club on the local and state economy at their Monday meeting.

The state’s young auto industry, which has brought jobs to Butler County via auto suppliers like Hwashin and Hysco, is feeling the effects of a struggling economy.

“When I was here last June, we talked about Alabama being in fifth place in the nation in auto production. Since then, this industry has taken a hit just like everyone. Our latest figures show 680,000 vehicles produced here in 2008, and that is down eight percent from 739,000 in 2007,” McLaney said.

“The year 2009 is predicted to be the worst year in the state’s short history of auto production.”

McLaney said he expected either GM or Chrysler to make it through the current recession, “but not both.”

“I think the surviving auto manufacturers will be doing things on a smaller scale,” he said.

McLaney said the anticipated thawing out of the credit system in the first quarter should provide consumers with greater access to auto loans.

One bright spot on the horizon, he said, was the continued construction of ThyssenKrupp’s giant steel plant locating near Mobile.

“There have been no delays and they are still on time, I’m glad to say,” McLaney said.

“Snowbirds” from the north continue to bring their dollars to the state, and there has not been a let down in their numbers so far this season, he said.

“In 2008, we saw 15,000 people come to winter with us. These people brought $28.2 million to Baldwin County alone, so we can see tourism continues to be strong in our state,” McLaney said.

Between snowbirds, spring breakers, summer travelers and back-to-school shoppers, businesses located on and near the interstate exchange especially reap the benefits, bringing in tax revenue to Greenville and Butler County.

McLaney said while most surrounding counties are seeing a dip in their tax revenues, Greenville’s revenues have actually remained steady.

“We have seen some new retail operations, like the new McDonald’s, Sonic, Walgreens, El Rodeo, the second Dollar General, Butler Rentals and Cititrends coming in during 2008 while others have declined or closed, and that has helped us stay the course,” he said.

McLaney pointed out the long-anticipated Holiday Inn Express and the new hotel construction behind the old Holiday Inn have also brought construction jobs to the area to help fuel the economy.

Another positive fact for the state: Alabama has one of the lowest percentages in the nation of homeowners who are “underwater” (owing more than their home is actually worth).

The figure in Alabama is seven percent, compared to 48 percent for Nevada.

“One of the big reasons we rate so highly here is due to our history of conservative banking practices in Alabama,” McLaney said.

The BCCED director said a new plant called “Cajun Creations” is now located in the former spec building in Georgiana.

“These folks got to know our area from visiting a hunting camp in McKenzie. They have been hit more than once by the hurricanes and wanted to move part of their business to this area to keep it going in spite of any weather problems,” McLaney said.

“We also have another retail outlet that is looking to locate off the Georgiana exit.”

McLaney said he was optimistic the economy would begin to see an upswing by mid-2009.