Mayor expects Tier 1 plants from Mazda-Toyota

By ED HOWELL
Posted 3/14/19

Jasper Mayor David O"Mary said Wednesday that the city will get Tier 1 supplier projects out of the Toyota-Mazda plant near Huntsville, and that the city will work toward a fiber loop around the city …

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Mayor expects Tier 1 plants from Mazda-Toyota

Posted

Jasper Mayor David O"Mary said Wednesday that the city will get Tier 1 supplier projects out of the Toyota-Mazda plant near Huntsville, and that the city will work toward a fiber loop around the city and Smart City status with help from Alabama Power and others. 

The items were raised by the mayor as he presented a five-year development plan for the city that looked at "Retail and Industrial Growth, Housing and Technology," or R.I.G.H.T. The plan, which will be posted on Facebook today, was presented at a Jasper Main Street meeting at the downtown Synovus building. 

O'Mary noted the importance of retail growth, as 60 percent of the city budget is funded through sales tax. "Without sales tax, we couldn't grow," he said, noting the city schools, public works and public safety are funded with it. 

"One thing we have to do in our city, unlike Tupelo, Mississippi, unlike Memphis, Tennessee, unlike Huntsville, Alabama, to lure retail prospects to our city, we have to make economic incentives," he said. Tax abatements are used to bring in prospects over maybe five to 10 years. 

"We have to get better at understanding that game. We have to get better at figuring out ways where we don't have to give up as much of our sales tax revenue," he said, envisioning a day in the future where the city doesn't have to give up any sales tax revenue. 

He noted executive director Linda Lewis of the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County and City Planner Keith Pike are two major contacts for industrial and retail growth, praising their work and proposing to find ways to maximize the value of their skills and become more proactive to recruit retail. He proposed growing relationships with developers, adding many people still may not understand how attractive Jasper is. 

He noted "there has never, in my opinion, been a more successful initiative in this city for the growth of retail development" than Jasper Main Street, admitting in the beginning he felt it was originally "the flavor of the week" and would fade soon without results.

"I am so happy I was wrong," he said, saying today the city stands ready to help Main Street in any way as their relationship was good. 

The plan also calls planning where development should go; seeking corporate retail contacts; balancing growth on retail zones on Highway 118, the interstate exits and downtown; working on the Farmers Market project; getting more eating establishment with new, diverse locations; and creating tourist attractions. 

On industrial growth, O'Mary noted the recession a decade ago and the decline of the coal industry. "We've had to set out reinventing Jasper," he said, acquiring and developing industrial property and competing against an average of 32 suitors for every prospect.

The city is intensifying efforts to work on the Mazda-Toyota of Alabama project near Huntsville to try to find Tier 1 and Tier 2 contacts. "(Huntsville) Mayor (Tommy) Battle stands at our side ready to help us," he said. "We firmly believe we will land one or two Tier 1 prospects out of this. We know production gets underway in the latter part of 2020 - probably the most important thing we have going for us as a city at the present time." 

O'Mary also talked about diversifying industrial jobs in the city, as most at the city's industrial park jobs are auto related now. Without diversification of jobs, "we'll have our legs taken out from under us," he said. 

He also talked to senior management of Alabama Power last week to thank them for their relationship, and he wants to continue developing that partnership. The plan also called on using Bevill State's workforce development program. 

Turning to technology growth, he said the city, like others of its size, is not prepared as the world is quickly advancing. He noted a deal was made with Alabama Power six months ago to replace street lighting with LED lights. The city is talking with two vendors about long-term technology advancements, as the city has funds to do that. 

"There is talk about a 21-mile fiber loop that will go around this city," O'Mary said, comparing it to when rural areas had main water lines installed. 

"This is our information main," he said, saying the fiber loop can help the industrial park get 21st Century technology and spur growth. He said when companies like Yorozu invest $140 million, they have needs that must be met or the city will be passed over. 

He anticipates hiring consultants to make a plan on what the city needs within the boundaries of what it can afford, adding the city can afford that consulting work. He said the city could work with Alabama Power and others to be designated as a Smart City, which could carry weight in industrial recruitment. 

Mike Putman, executive director of Jasper Main Street, noted at the start of the meeting an electronic car charger will be installed in four to six weeks in the city parking lot behind The Rock building downtown.

"That dual charger takes four hours to charge a car, which means the passengers and the drivers come into downtown Jasper and they eat and they shop," he said. 

O'Mary said someone told him no one in Jasper has an electric car.

"They quit making horse collars at the Burton Building years ago because things changed," he said.

He added that signs will be up on U.S. Interstate 22 to let drivers know the car charger is available, which can lead to retail spending as well. "It is a step in the right direction," he said.

The plan also calls for developing Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) opportunities within five years, as well as bringing Wi-Fi to the downtown entertainment district.