allocate $100,000 for economic development, which one local official says is critical to recruiting new businesses and industry to Walker County.
The county’s proposed 1-cent sales tax increase would allocate $100,000 for economic development, which one local official says is critical to recruiting new businesses and industry to Walker County.
David Knight, the director of the Walker County Economic Development Authority, said funds from the proposed sales tax would allow officials to essentially market the county — something they haven’t been able to do as often in recent months.
“The funding that the development authority has typically received for our efforts is through a state coal severance tax. With the decline of the coal industry, that tax has significantly dropped in the last three to four years,” Knight said.
He added that the coal severance tax allowed the county to have around $200,000 a year for economic development efforts, and they only received less than $50,000 last year to help market Walker County for new businesses.
Knight said if the 1-cent sales tax increase passes, the economic development authority will have more opportunities to attend trade shows and economic development events.
“We’ve done an analysis, and we have certain targeted industry sectors that we try to recruit from, like automotive, wood products, aerospace, plastics, and one of the ways you market and try to get the community’s name out is to go to trade shows that are specifically targeting those industry sectors. Because of the budget restraints with the drop in the coal tax, we had to cut back on the number of events like that we have gone to,” Knight said. “The tax would enable us to broaden our marketing efforts and hit a larger, targeted market. It’s a definite plus for our efforts, and it’s something that is desperately needed.”
He said the sales tax increase would also help fund fire protection, public safety and road improvements that are all key to economic development in the county.
“When people are looking at a community, if they’re seeing high crime statistics and poor fire protection, they’re going to be concerned about putting a $10, $20 or $100 million plant in that area, so having quality services, fire protection and public safety are important,” he said.
In terms of quality roads, Knight added, “Not only do you have to have interstate access for any major project, but the roads getting to that interstate need to be well-maintained. Sometimes roads need to be improved in order to accommodate new industrial traffic. Sometimes we can get state grants for that, but sometimes we can’t. Even if you do get a state grant, there’s usually local matching dollars that have to be put in.”
He said the county’s economic climate is strong with continued development off I-22 and along Highway 78 in Jasper, but having an environment that is welcoming to industry will be key to the county’s industrial growth, he said.
Knight said having the Yorozu site cleared and graded prior to the company’s interest in locating to Jasper was critical in securing their development in the county, and he said the new spec building in place at Industrial Park is also sparking interest from tennants.
“Having product is key to what we do. You have to have buildings and you have to have sites in order for anybody to want to look,” he said. “We’re actually seeing a pretty big increase in the number of projects that have been looking [at our area] over the past 8 to 10 months.”
Residents of Walker County will vote on the 1-cent sales tax increase Aug. 15.