Vince Perez: Investment into industrial sites needed to spur economic growth

Vince Perez

We are living in a time where many companies across the globe are carefully in search of communities with the business-friendly environments and strong workforces needed to build out their manufacturing bases and invest in their organizations’ futures.

This provides a great opportunity for state and community leaders to seize the moment and take the required steps needed to make the case that they are the best option for companies to establish their operations.

I commend our state leaders for recognizing this opportunity and taking action to ensure that Alabama is serious about business recruitment, growing our economy, and preparing our citizens for the jobs of the future. Recently, the legislature passed, and Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law, a package of economic development incentive bills that will keep Alabama at the top of the list of locations companies will consider for making new investments and creating jobs.

One bill in this package – the SEEDS Act – has the potential to allow Alabama to close the gap with our neighboring states through expanding the State Industrial Development Authority’s (SIDA) ability to give competitive grants to economic development organizations for site development and assessment. But for this bill to be effective, first, it needs to be fully funded.

This is critically important. When looking at the toolbox communities need to have in order to win in competitions for business investment, there are few tools more important than access to high-quality industrial sites.  

Having a high-quality site, one with minimal risk to the prospective company you want to attract, is the best way to get your community into consideration for new investment and job creation. 

Without a quality industrial site that meets a prospective business’ size, logistics, utility, and workforce requirements, everything else falls apart. The most competitive communities plan for what type of job creator they want to attract, identify property that has the best chance to be developed, then invest in that site to make it as attractive as possible. 

Proactive investment in sites is critical because, outside of reducing risk for a business, it also shows that a community is committed to making whatever goes on that site successful.

Many communities in Alabama are actively doing this, and doing it well, particularly in the region we serve at Southeast Gas. Over the years, cities across Southeast Alabama have invested in industrial parks, individual sites, and buildings. Those investments have resulted in new jobs, payroll, and capital investment that have been transformational to the communities and their citizens in the region. At the same time, those successes have now led to a lack of high-quality sites for the next round of opportunities. We have become victims of our own success, which is why now is the time to implement new strategies to continue capitalizing on our earned reputation as a state where great companies make high-quality products.

Strategies vary by area, but most begin with communities and states taking a hard look in the mirror and understanding who they are and what they want. This includes understanding what incentives they are willing to use at the community level to attract the desired job creator. Once goals are agreed upon and established, communities typically start a process to acquire and improve their preferred site or industrial park. This is usually accomplished by leveraging a combination of public funds, state site development programs, and private funds. 

By fully funding the SEEDS Act, lawmakers will give the economic development teams across Alabama the ability to make those investments and make compelling arguments to companies looking to find a home.

And with these business investments come high-quality jobs, a larger tax base that can fund education, infrastructure, and other important priorities that increase the quality of life for residents.

The race to secure economic investment is a competitive one. Our neighboring states understand this, as do states across the country. Let’s put Alabama in a position to win those competitions. We are off to a great start, but we should finish strong and make the wise investments needed to win.

Vince Perez is the Director of Economic Development for Southeast Gas. He directs the global and regional economic development initiatives of Southeast Gas and works with various organizations to promote economic growth across Southeast Alabama.