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Signs of an economic turnaround?

In the midst of a serious recession, there are some positive signs for the county.

So says Ricky McLaney, director of the Butler County Commission for Economic Development.

McLaney updated the Greenville Lions on current economic news at their Monday meeting.

The long-awaited Tractor Supply Company store will be opening this Saturday in Interstate Plaza in Greenville with a sneak preview open house on Friday evening.

“This store will carry a little bit of everything. It’s like a hardware store; it has a clothing section, too and carries all types of feed, so it is also similar to a coop,” McLaney said.

McLaney said there had also been interest shown in the former Goody’s retail space and in the old Winn Dixie building at Butler Square.

“Companies are still looking at Greenville as a viable retail market,” he said.

McLaney also reported locally-owned high-tech security company MTI will be moving to its new expanded location adjacent to the Industrial Park by mid-December of this year.

In the south end of the county, the purchase of the former International Paper/Chapman Forest Products by Coastal means an upgraded mill and jobs for 340-350 people when the plant is in full production. The plant closed down in June, putting 265 people out of work.

Coastal plans to have the plywood plant in production with 205 employees by January 2010 and will reopen other parts of the plant in February, hiring an additional 70 workers.

“It’s been years since much of the equipment was upgraded, and they will be bringing new advanced technologies to the plant. With so many mills west of us closing down, they should have no problem filling positions with good employees,” McLaney said.

He added the ripple effect from the re-opening of the Chapman facility would help loggers, timber owners, and the many businesses with close ties to the industry to benefit.

“Coastal is family owned and operated, and while they have committed $10 million to improvements in the plant, we expect the investment to run considerably higher,” McLaney said. “This is a great thing for the county.”

Local Tier One and Two automotive plants should also get a boost from the planned green vehicle plant to be built by Chinese company Hybrid Kinetic (HK) Motors. The Baldwin County plant will produce a hybrid engine employing compressed natural gas, electricity and gasoline. Initial production is expected to begin in 2013.

“The Chinese do not have established automotive networks in the U.S. as the Koreans do, and we expect they will utilize the existing facilities already established by the Koreans,” McLaney said.