Knight shows what project proposal looks like

By ED HOWELL
Posted 8/28/18

David Knight, the executive director of the Walker County Development Authority, on Monday gave the Jasper Kiwanis Club an example of how proposal requests from prospects are handled. Knight, …

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Knight shows what project proposal looks like

Posted

David Knight, the executive director of the Walker County Development Authority, on Monday gave the Jasper Kiwanis Club an example of how proposal requests from prospects are handled. 

Knight, with a recent RFP (request for proposal) to guide him, used a hypothetical company called Comet to show that selling an industrial site is complicated.

"It is not just putting out a for sale sign and hoping somebody bumps into it, saying, 'That's a great building. That's where I need to be,'" he said. 

He noted the Walker County Development Authority is chaired by Bob Reed, with Eddie Jackson as vice chairman. Other members include Floyd Burton, Dorman Grace, Mark Keller, Bob Nolen, Sherrie Pike, Jim Woods and Don Kilgore. That office has a full-time staff and office, has a countywide focus and serves as a primary contact for projects. 

However, he noted the authority is under contract with the Jasper Economic and Industrial Development to provide economic development services for a Jasper service area. The JIDB provides product. 

"Product is industrial sites and industrial buildings, so we kind of tell them about what we need in order to be successful on the marketing side," Knight said. If affordable, the JIDB uses advice from the authority and others to provide that product. 

The authority also works with the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County. Knight noted the chamber and the authority are housed in the same office suite at the Jasper Civic Center, with the full-time staff and office of the chamber focusing on retail development, quality of life issues and tourism. 

He showed in a PowerPoint what a proposal for Project Comet would look like, using location maps, democraphic data, local government overview, local workforce training, information on the grading going on at the Jasper Industrial Park, and local and state incentives. 

Contact is usually made between local contacts and the prospects, in either direction, through the state Department of Commerce, with an eye on state incentives. Increasingly, site location consultants are frequently employed with a project. He will send word back through the state or email directly to the consultant firm. 

However, through the contacts very little information comes in about the potential employer. In fact, the projects usually have code names instead of the company names. 

"They tell us a little bit about their project, usually not very much," Knight said. "We don't know who they are. But they will talk about their need for 30 or 35 acres of property, a need for an existing building or whatever."

He said in this hypothetical, about 35 acres of flat land is needed. "As you know, flat land in Walker County can be a little tricky," he said.

A map of the Southeast is usually provided as company officials have no clue where Jasper is, as consultants or lower company officials have only indicated Jasper is favorable. Walker County is shown in relation to U.S. Interstate 22, as he said it is still one of the most important things to have happened to the area. It is also critical to show the proximity of Jasper to Birmingham (30 minutes to downtown) and to Birmingham's airport (42 miles). 

"That is critical for us. There are a lot of communities who have similar assets to what Jasper has, but our proximity to Birmingham gives us a leg up at times," Knight said. "These projects like to be close to a major metro. Every single project we deal also wants to know how close it is to the nearest commercial airport." 

He also pointed to a Southeast map showing distance to 11 automotive plants within 250 miles, as he said the new Toyota and Mazda automotive plant in Huntsville will create supplier projects for the area. He said Jasper already has three Tier 1 automotive suppliers and one that can supply Tier 1 and Tier 2 depending on the customer. 

"Jasper and Walker County tend to be pretty central to Toyota, Mazda, Nissan and Honda," he said. "Sometimes those suppliers like to supply more than one (plant)." 

The hypothetical company asked for drive times areas for 35, 45 and 55 minutes, shown in shaded map areas. A radius map is not used.

"People don't do radius anymore," he said. "They now like to look at the actual drive times, how long it takes for people to get from place to place." Data bases are used to provide that information. 

"If you go to 55 minutes, you go to the other side of Birmingham. That's a huge advantage for us," Knight said. 

He pointed to demographics, which moves beyond population to known about workforce, pay scales for certain jobs, where labor will be drawn from. Available access to labor is one of the more critical pieces of information that is sought, he said, noting eight pages of just demographics is usually presented to a prospect as a separate attachment. 

Workforce training was emphasized with long-term career technical education from Bevill State Community College and from the state's Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) pre-employment training program, which helps to start up the company or expand an existing company. The AIDT training is free to companies, with AIDT assigning a project manager to work with the company. 

For the hypothetical project, he used the 50 acres just north of the Yorozu plant that is currently being graded as an example. In reality, the site is not taken, but its grading should be completed by the end of October. The grading started 45 days ago and "is moving quickly," he said. 

The proposal shows photos of the grading to give the prospect confidence, and outlines the property and the industrial park on satellite images. The same is done to show utilities on the Whitehouse Road property, where a 6-inch gas main and an 8-inch water main are along the road. Electricity and sewer is also available in the area. Zoning regulations are also covered, as well as details on water and sewer and how much capacity is available decades from now. 

Knight noted prospects don't like to know aspects that might come in the future. "They like to know it is there," he said. 

An outline of a 420,000-square-foot building would easily fit on the 590-acre site, which compares well to the 285,000-square-foot Yorozu plant to the site. 

An letter showing incentives is usually attached by Knight, the chairman of the Jasper Industrial Development Board and the mayor of Jasper, with all signing off on it to show cooperation. State incentives are covered to some extent but are usually provided in detail in a separate presentation from the state. 

Knight said even with the presentation, the process is usually repeated several times on one successful project. 

"It is pretty typical to have two or three rounds of questions and answers like this before you ever get a shot at having somebody with boots on the ground here in town. Even by the time you have boots on the ground, you still won't know who they are. You might know what industry sector they are in, whether they are automotive or aerospace," he said. 

Questions from Kiwanians led Knight to note that under the hypothetical, a total of eight different job classifications were listed by the prospect, and wanted Knight to provide average wage rates for all the classifications. The number of people were available to work under those classifications in the drive times shown were also submitted. 

He noted the need to have product, such as sites and spec buildings.

"If you don't have a building and you don't have a site, you're not going to have anyone come look," he said. "Having product and having word out about that product is one of the most important ways we have to drive interest in our community." 

He said the authority has a website to get the word out, and it also maintains a state database each month to update the product.

"For example, on the site we're grading, we go in about every two weeks and put up new, updated areal photos," Knight said. "I've got a drone at work that we use, and we go out and get photos and video of the sites and put those up so people can actually see the progress that is being made." 

The authority also has a database of the site selection consultants that run the projects. An average of one email a month is sent out to them with updates on the grading, spec buildings or other details. His office also goes to four or five trade shows each year.