News Staff Report
Members of the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority board held a luncheon and forum for board members and the county’s mayors Thursday, March 5, laying out the framework for the organization’s goals in the coming year.
ECIDA Board Chairman Rick Wilson called the meeting to outline the board’s course for the coming year and to encourage a spirit of cooperation between board members, county officials and city representatives across Escambia County.
The Escambia County Industrial Development Authority is the county’s principal organization concerned with economic development, both in recruiting new business and industry, as well as assisting existing industries in growth and business development.
“We need to give our group value to the people that pay us,” Wilson said. “In order to do so we need to find out what they need from us to enhance what they already do and determine what we are capable of providing.”
Wilson pointed to a new program at Coastal Alabama Community College, which recently announced it would begin training CNC operators and programmers at its Atmore campus.
The program was brought forward in response to numerous requests from Escambia County companies for assistance in training skilled machinists.
“It fulfills an infrastructure need for machinists and programmers that can benefit existing industry such as T.R. Miller Mill, Brewton Iron Works, Georgia-Pacific, G&E Machine, Flomaton Machine, Muskogee Technology and Brown Precision,” Wilson said. “By fulfilling the needs of multiple businesses in our county, it strengthens our position in the state since there is only one other school of this type, located in Thomasville.”
Wilson wants ECIDA to lead the effort to discover other needs local businesses have and take the point in offering solutions to meet them.
“What other needs do we have of which we are not aware?” he asked. “I believe the answer to that lies in the fact that we have always been reactive. In other words, we react to the inquiries of businesses that might want to locate in this county.
“But we won’t know until we ask. To that end, I am going to propose that we develop a needs survey for both cities and businesses, both industrial and service-related, that will give us an idea of what Escambia County wants.”
Wilson said the survey will take some time to develop but would eventually give valuable insight into what would bring benefit to the county’s business and industrial sectors.
“What I would like to try to do is be more proactive,” Wilson said. “I want to ask the questions of our mayors and our county businesses, both service and industrial: What are your needs? What do they need from us to enhance what they do, and what are we capable of providing?”
Wilson also suggested the board look into the possibility of establishing a business incubator for local entrepreneurs, made up of multiple levels. Each level would contribute some manner of expertise and guidance, meant to give entrepreneurs insight into the likelihood of their projects’ potential success.
Entrepreneurs would have access to local businessmen and women, and as projects advanced through the program, successful projects would eventually be shopped to various angel investors and capital companies.
“Even if we can’t produce the project itself here, each community has vacant buildings available for warehousing and distribution centers,” he said. “Warehousing jobs have an entry-level skill set and most people can perform those duties. It’s a way to grow our economy from within. We should investigate whether the model exists somewhere already, so we can learn from it. This is something we can do, at no charge, for the people and businesses of this county.”
Wilson encouraged board members to put together ideas of their own in advance of the board’s next formal meeting, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, April 22 at noon at Escambia County Bank in Flomaton.
“Our goal is to make a difference for the people of Escambia County, and for the future of this county,” Wilson said, speaking to the other members and mayors. “I hope that is your goal as well.”