2 area sites on state’s early list for auto plant

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MONTGOMERY – Alabama and more than a dozen other states are vying for a 4,000-job automotive plant, and sites in Lawrence and Limestone counties are on a preliminary list of locations that could meet requirements, officials said last week.

“I can’t talk about that, other than the fact that we do have a site that does qualify for it,” Tony Stockton, president of the Lawrence County Economic Development Association, said last week. “There are a lot of sites over the state that meet the acreage requirement and we’re fortunate to have one here.”

Similarly, Tom Hill, president of the Limestone County Economic Development Association, declined to talk specifics.

“All I can tell you is we have a really nice site out there that’s a (Tennessee Valley Authority) mega site,” Hill said on Friday.

The 1,252-acre area in Huntsville’s limits was declared a mega site last year. To earn the TVA certification, a site must be at least 1,000 acres with interstate access, have the potential for rail service, and have utility service capable of serving a major manufacturing company.

At least 15 states want the $1.6 billion plant proposed by Toyota and Mazda and dubbed “Project Mitt,” USA Today reported earlier this month.

State-level economic development officials would not comment specifically about Alabama’s pitch, but touted the state’s automotive successes.

“Alabama has several sites that offer the acreage, workforce availability, utilities infrastructure, transportation access, and other assets that are compatible for automotive (original equipment manufacturer) projects,” Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said last week. “Over the years, we have learned a great deal in partnering with Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai as they have grown and prospered in Alabama. We can replicate this same success should another vehicle-producing automotive OEM make the decision to locate in Alabama.”

Gov. Kay Ivey said economic development activity is confidential.

“That being said, Alabama has proven that the automotive sector can thrive and grow in our state,” Ivey said.

Toyota already builds the four- and six-cylinder and V-8 engines in north Alabama, and more than one million vehicles have been produced in each of the previous two years, she said.

According to USA Today, Southern and Midwestern states from Florida to Michigan want Project Mitt.

“You have to be able to say you’ve got the workforce, you’ve got the land, you’ve got the transportation systems and rail spurs, community college and education, and a place where people want to live,” Kristin Dziczek, director of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research, told the newspaper. “Once you’ve got all that, tax incentives come into play.”

The newspaper said low-cost labor and the state’s current auto sector were pluses for Alabama, but it may not have enough workers.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he doesn’t think Alabama is any better or worse off than other states in terms of available labor.

“I don’t think there’s any location in the country that would have the workforce on hand immediately for a project of that magnitude,” Orr said.

“What we do have that we’re better than everyone else at is our (Alabama Industrial Development and Training) reputation in hiring, training and developing the workforce for large employers,” Orr said.

AIDT training and recruitment is often an incentive the state uses to lure large companies here.

“That is what really sets us apart,” Orr said. “We’re the envy of the country once the project is announced and hiring starts.”

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said there are about a dozen sites statewide on an early list of possible locations.

“We’d have to bring them in from surrounding areas,” Greer said about available workforce in north Alabama. “You’d get them from existing businesses that don’t pay as much. But that’s how the economy works.”

He said the state’s incentive package would be “tremendous,” but worth it.

“You’re talking about thousands and thousands of jobs,” he said.