Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield speaks with Jasper Mayor Sonny Posey after the “Business for Breakfast” event Monday morning. Daily Mountain Eagle - James Phillips
By JAMES PHILLIPS, Daily Mountain Eagle
The recent gains in industrial development in Walker County were highlighted during a forum Monday morning.
Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield served as the speaker for the “Business for Breakfast” event, sponsored by the Walker County Development Authority and the Jasper Industrial Development Board. More than 50 area professionals attended the event, which was held at the Jasper Civic Center, formerly the CHS Activity Center.
Canfield spoke about the work done by the Alabama Department of Commerce. The group was formerly known as the Alabama Development Office, but that name did not translate well in foreign discussions. The name change also came with additional areas of focus for the group. The department of commerce is now split into two divisions, business development and workforce development.
“What we are really talking about are career opportunities for the State of Alabama,” Canfield said. “For too long, many of the best and the brightest in our state have felt like they need to move away to be successful. We are doing some great things that are beginning to do the things that will keep our young adults here, and that is good for our state.”
The business development side of the Alabama Department of Commerce focuses primarily on the areas of taxes and incentives, resources, site availability, local development, small business advocacy, international trade and film production.
The newly-created Alabama Industrial Development Training program, which encourages economic development through job-specific training, is a big part of the workforce development branch of the department of commerce. Workforce development also features regional councils and several additional programs and grants.
Canfield also mentioned the success of the Accelerate Alabama initiative, which was an economic development strategic plan for the state that was unveiled in early 2012. Since that time, the initiative has helped to produce $24.4 billion in new capital investment in the state that has translated into nearly 92,000 jobs.
“In Walker County, you guys have also enjoyed great success,” he said. “If we just look at 2015, you have three really good projects, with two of them producing more than 100 jobs each.”
Canfield specifically mentioned Yorozu (300 jobs, $100 million capital), Mar-Jac (100 jobs from expansion, $15 million capital) and Dapa Products (15 jobs from expansion, $1 million in capital) as local success stories from the past year.
“Walker County has already seen its share of success,” he added. “Once I-22 is open, you better be ready. I think I-22 is going to be a real opportunity for Jasper and Walker County. As we travel around the United States right now, nobody know what I-22 is, but when it opens, you better be ready.”
Teamwork at the local level is a main factor to the industrial development success seen in the Walker County area, Canfield said.
“Partnership between the state and local groups are important,” he said. “Teamwork is always a key. When we look at Walker County, we see a role model that other communities want to emulate.
“The partnership between the WCDA and the JIDB is what is allowing this region to be successful,” Canfield added. “With JIDB focusing on product development, while the WCDA handles marketing is a great process that is creating real results. That process and sense of teamwork has led to your success.”
Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper) introduced Canfield, calling him a personal friend and a friend to Walker County.
“On a recent project, we hit a bump that was a challenge, and when I met with the secretary, he said, ‘Greg, we are going to do whatever we’ve got to do to make this work.’ He did exactly what he said he was going to do.”
Russ Robertson, chairman of the JIDB, said Monday’s meeting was a way to celebrate the recent successes in the area.
“We first had this idea to present the facts that we needed to have a unified approach for economic development in our county,” he said. “But that was put to the side because we had some big projects to work on and now we are here celebrating the fact that we have taken a unified approach for economic development.”
David Knight, executive director of the WCDA, said he was encouraged by the turnout for the meeting and thanked Canfield for taking the time to speak.
“We have a lot of positive things going forward,” Knight said. “Hopefully, the next time Secretary Canfield is in town, it will be to announce a new project.”