By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday, September 15, that a farmer-owned peanut processing facility with an estimated cost of $87 million and a promise of at least 100 jobs has chosen Atmore Industrial Park as its home.
The governor said in a press release that Coastal Growers LLC plans to build a peanut shelling plant in Atmore, a move that will make the city “a hub for peanut shelling in southwest Alabama.”
The agricultural factory will be owned by a cooperative of farmers — most of them from Alabama but including some from Florida and Mississippi. It will encompass 400,000 square feet and will be located on a tract of more than 60 acres, adjacent to Masland Carpets.
“The Coastal Growers facility in Atmore will become a vital resource for peanut farmers in Alabama and beyond by helping to make their operations more sustainable and profitable,” the governor said. “I look forward to seeing the impact that this project is going to have for our farmers and for the region.”
Jess Nicholas of Centerfire Economic, who serves as executive director of the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority, said he expects the facility to ultimately employ 150 workers and attract other businesses to the area.
“We’re on the map now as far as peanut production is concerned,” Nicholas said. “Shelling operations tend to attract other businesses in this sector, and also spur development in infrastructure and other areas. We expect it to have a positive effect on the Port of Mobile as well.”
Brad Smith and Joe Parker of Coastal Growers, two of the driving forces behind the project, said the Atmore location is the perfect site for the company.
“The peanuts we have in this area are among the highest quality available, yet we really had no infrastructure for shelling in this area,” said Parker, who is owner and general manager of Baldwin County’s Summerdale Peanut Company. “While we looked at other possibilities in other states, Atmore really did make the best sense for us in the end, and the state was strongly supportive of our efforts the entire time. They did a fantastic job of making us feel welcome in Escambia County.”
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff said the new jobs, which will pay an average of $17 per hour, created by the peanut mill is exciting enough, but the chance to help the area’s farmers is equally important.
“It’s not just the jobs at the plant itself, even as much opportunity as that will bring to the city,” Staff said. “It’s what we’re able to do for our farmers and their families who have lived here and worked here for generations. They’ve spent their money in Atmore, and they’re an important part of our community.”
Alex Jones, president of UB Community Development LLC, an affiliate of United Bank, led efforts to secure financing for the project, utilizing New Market Tax Credits, incentives and traditional financing. He said the impact across the region will be immense.
“We have farmers from one side of the state to the other who are involved in this, in Florida and Mississippi as well, and even up the state into the Sand Mountain area,” Jones said. “This is a complex process and not the typical economic development project in any way, but in the end, it’s going to mean a lot for our region, for Atmore, for Escambia County and our state.”
Dothan-based Hollis & Spann Inc. will be heading up the construction project. Company president Glenn Spivey said the processing plant will take about a year to build.
Nicholas expressed appreciation to the company for choosing the city, and to Ivey for giving the project her backing.
“We worked hard to bring Coastal Growers here, and we’re very thankful to Coastal Growers for picking us, and to Governor Ivey for supporting our efforts,” he said.