By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore City Council members and more than a dozen city citizens learned during the September 28 council meeting just how much it will cost taxpayers to bring a massive, state-of-the-art peanut processing plant to the city.
City Attorney Larry Wettermark and Centerfire Economic CEO Jess Nicholas, who has been contracted by the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority to help bring businesses to the county, explained the benefits to be reaped from the plant’s location in Atmore Industrial Park.
They then explained that the incentives granted Coastal Growers are nominal, once the immediate returns are balanced against them.
“First, we offered land to the company for the processing plant,” Wettermark said, pointing out that four separate parcels would be involved. “It will take 84 acres, and the city donated Parcel A, which is 54.8 acres with access to Carpet Drive and Industrial Drive [adjacent to Masland Carpets]. We will be selling Parcel B to the company, and we will be paid by the company for a portion of Parcel C. Also, Coastal Growers will have an option and first refusal on Parcel D, if they want to expand in the future.”
With the sale of the smaller tracts to the company, the city’s net incentive will be nominal.
“It’s almost a wash,” the attorney said. “Financially, the city will only be out about $10,000.”
The company will also be granted tax abatements for 10 years, including sales taxes on construction materials and equipment, as well as ad valorem taxes. The abatement does not include education taxes, which should amount to “about $3.5 million” over 20 years.
Nicholas said the new business will be owned by “a consortium of mostly local farmers,” most of them from western Escambia County. Other farmer-owners will include those from northwest Florida, northern Baldwin County, southern Monroe County and as far away as Sand Mountain.
“This turns Atmore into the hub of peanut shelling in the state of Alabama,” he said. “Forty to 50 percent of the peanuts shelled in the state will be shelled here.”
He also noted that the creation of jobs — direct and indirect — would make the shelling plant a valuable additional to the local industrial community.
“Other jobs show up when a peanut processing plant comes to town,” he said. “We’re expecting 150 fulltime jobs (at the plant), and expectations are that another 66 jobs will be created to help the plant. With the total sales and output per year, it should provide $33 million to the local economy.”
The council then introduced measures to approve the project agreement with Coastal Growers, the option and right of first refusal on the fourth tract of land, the tax abatement agreement, the purchase agreement with Swift Timber, and a resolution to declare the donation of land and the tax abatements.
The Alabama Constitution requires that final city council action on each item must be held within a week. Council members are set to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday, October 7, to ratify each one.
“This is really an exciting project,” said Nicholas. “It provides stable jobs, good jobs that pay well. [The average wage will be $17 per hour, plus benefits and insurance.] This is not a pie-in-the-sky proposition.”
In the only other business transacted during the September 28 meeting, the council voted unanimously to appoint Katie Brantley as a replacement for Ginger Cochran on the Atmore Public Library Board, and to appoint Sydney McGhee as the board’s treasurer.