By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
After six years with Coastal Gateway Economic Development Alliance, the last nine months as its interim director, Jess Nicholas is hanging out his own shingle.
Nicholas worked on the deals that eventually brought Brown Precision to Atmore, Provalis to Brewton and many other industrial concerns to the five-county CGEDA service area. The Monroe County native said he had hoped to continue the work of his predecessors, Dr. John Johnson and Will Ruzic, as permanent director of the alliance, but it just didn’t work out for him.
“When Will Ruzic left in May, I called all the board members and notified them of my intention to stay here,” he recalled. “I told them I want the job, asked them what I needed to do to apply. All of them were gung-ho; they said it would be the easiest transition ever.”
Something changed in the interim, and some board members wanted to “take things in a different direction,” said Nicholas, who admitted he was disappointed and embarrassed to be left hanging.
After much soul-searching, he decided to form Centerfire Economic and leave the Monroeville-based economic development alliance, which recruits new industries for Escambia, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh and Monroe counties.
“I have never envied the job of our board at all, as it is up to them to craft the direction for the organization, and then hand it over to the executive director and his team to run it,” Nicholas said. “And they have been just as supportive to me over the years as John and Will were.”
Nicholas, who will now recruit industrial companies for Escambia County Industrial Development Authority and its members, on a contract basis, said the move was bittersweet.
“I will have spent nearly six years at Coastal Gateway EDA, and the hardest thing about running my own company is that I will no longer be affiliated with my current one,” he said. “Coastal Gateway has been the best job I’ve ever had by far, and the number of people who deserve my thanks is a list so long that I’ll never remember them all.”
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff said the city would continue to contract with its retail and industrial recruiter, Tucson Roberts, but would also become a member of ECIDA now that CGEDA is without an economic development professional.
“Most of the money (paid to Coastal Gateway each year) came from ECIDA anyhow,” the mayor said. “Coastal will still be there; they’ll have somebody to serve the community, and there are a lot of records there. They’re still working on some of our stuff; even with the change coming, they kept right after it.”
Nicholas, who lives with wife Melina and son Creighton in Monroeville, will officially begin his relationship with the local economic development authority on February 12. He reiterated that he hated leaving Coastal Gateway, but said his family comes first in all decisions.
Nicholas added that the new endeavor will allow him to make an impact on the local area like his father, Dr. Francis Eugene Nicholas, did.