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400 West 19th Street
Jasper, AL 35501
Phone 205-221-2100

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Battle: Jasper on track to developing workforce

BY ED HOWELL, DAILY MOUNTAIN EAGLE
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle spoke Monday of how Jasper is doing the right things to grow its workforce, and reviewed what his own city is undertaking to do just that.

Battle, who ran unsuccessfully for governor this year and has close working ties with Jasper Mayor David O'Mary, spoke to a joint meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Jasper and Jasper Rotary Club at Bevill State Community College-Jasper. 

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NOTICE

The City of Jasper has placed a hold on all animal adoptions. A local veterinarian is testing our animals for contagious diseases and will provide treatment if needed. It is our desire to provide the public with a healthy pet. Our veterinarian will notify us when our animals are once again ready for adoption.


Now mayor for about 10 year, Battle talked of how municipalities strive for quality of life. He bragged about how well Jasper has done in this, noting Veterans Day banners with photos.

"We're stealing those," he said. "We're going to put up Veterans Day signs with pictures on them next time, too. I see things being done each time I come through. I will tell you we steal ideas here and take them back to Huntsville. 

"What you have done with the downtown area (of Jasper) is amazing, to bring people back downtown, to make downtown a livable area. As you do that, you are adding to your ability to attract workforce," he said. 

He said Jasper is sitting a 4 percent unemployment. That is about 1 percent away from what is essentially considered transitional unemployment, which is considered to be a rate of zero. 

"You have second-tier automotive plants who have located in the area. You will probably have more," he said. "What you have to ask is, 'How do we service all the industries as they come in?'" 

The question is raised in Huntsville as well, he said, noting that officials there broke ground Friday on the Mazda-Toyota plant, which will employ 4,000 workers and create another 1,000 workers at the supplier plants. A 2.5 multiplier from the direct jobs means that could create a total of 12,500 jobs in the area, working in everything from grocery stores to house construction. 

Battle said training and supplying workforce is the biggest challenge in this effort, he said, noting Huntsville cannot be "greedy" as it will "overshoot the infrastructure." 

He noted a number of industries in his city, such as GE Aviation, Polaris, Remington and Facebook, among others,  have set the city up for success over the next decade . However, he also noted Huntsville has a long-term strategic plan looking as far as 25 years into the future, evaluating what new industries will come into the area. 

Back in 2011 Huntsville "made a purposeful shift to go for advanced manufacturing because we needed to be broaden our industrial base," Battle said. "We had a lot of dollars which were tied into Redstone Arsenal. A lot of our businesses were tied to Redstone Arsenal. We wanted to make sure we could tie into advanced manufacturing," starting with Remington Arms. 

That company alone will eventually have 2,000 employees. A promised $130 million in investment already has turned into between $160 million and $170 million in investment, he said. Remington led to other companies coming in, including some retail jobs. 

He noted sales tax runs municipal governments in the state, with 56 percent of Huntsville's municipal government revenue coming off of sales tax. He said Jasper was likely the same, which Mayor David O'Mary nodded to that at the head table. 

Polaris also indicated it would hire 2,000 people and make a $130 million investment, he said. Jobs from there, GE Aviation, Mazda/Toyota and the like will set up in Limestone County, but will still be in the city of Huntsville. 

"Probably 20 percent of those people will likely end up living in Huntsville," he said. "Another 20 to 30 percent will live in Madison County. About 30 percent will live in Limestone County, where the plants are set up. The other 20 percent will go to Morgan County and south Tennessee and all the way down to here in this area. Out of that, we will see we have a regional pull and a regional base." 

He said that is important, because Mazda/Toyota officials asked where Huntsville would get its work force. Battle said they were told 1.2 million in north Alabama make up the workforce in the area and people don't mind traveling to get to work. Another 600,000 live just north of the Tennessee state line. 

"I said there are many people on the East and West Coasts who travel an hour each way to get to work, and we're not different," Battle said, which is important for growth. 

"But then you've got to do things to attract people to your area, and y'all have done it," he said. "If you look at what you have done in the downtown area, you've made downtown as a living room of your county, the living room of your city. You made it where people want to come down and make it a walkable area. People want to be part of it. What amazed me when we were talking about what helped you to grow was the idea that craft beer helps you grow. Would anybody have believed that?"

Battle noted Huntsville alone now has eight or nine craft breweries in that area, noting it helps to attract younger people, while an artist colony has also been created, with 200 artists working in an old mill. 

Industries have noted they have an easier time attracting a workforce than they did a decade ago because they have a walkable downtown -  much like Jasper has achieved, he added.

"It's given us a reason to be able to grow," filling in the needed workforce, he said. 

After going after advanced manufacturing, he noted the city has now shifted again to grow the technology sector. "Technology is what brought us to the dance," he said. 

He noted the average job at Mazda/Toyota and Polaris is between $40,000 and $50,000 annually. On the other hand, one new company is putting together rocket engines that will take the Atlas 4 into space, paying between $100,000 and $130,000 annually a job, showing the desirability of high tech jobs. 

"We want to set ourselves up to take advantage of the future technology," he said.

He noted the benefit of having Bevill State in the community, as he said education is also a key to workforce development. He noted 60 percent of the workers coming into the cyber industry don't need a degree, but they do need certifications that two-year colleges can offer, leading graduates to get six-figure jobs. 

"The same thing can happen right here," he said. 

Battle also noted his city has put together 14 entrepreneurial groups, with people in their 20s working on Wednesday nights on new technology changes, including areas such as coding, apps and making computer processes easier. That is leading to the creation of companies with jobs. 

He said one of the great lessons he learned while running for governor was that there are great people in Alabama wanting to do great things for the state. "As you go around the state, you see we have so much potential to actually take off with what we can do," he said. 

Battle noted a number of developments in Birmingham which will be game-changers for the city, including a new data center. 

"Birmingham is on the cusp of really taking off," he said, noting the city has enough workforce to handle that growth. "It will take off and it will do great." He also noted of similar events and potential in cities across the state. 

Noting four second-tier auto plants are in Jasper, he said after the recent Japanese trip he and O'Mary went on to meet with industrial leaders there, he feels that local number of supplier plants will grow to five or six. 

"You're right in the sweet spot," with Jasper between auto plants in Tuscaloosa, Talladega, Montgomery and Huntsville. 

"I think our biggest challenge is making sure we can get a workforce that can continue to come," as a new generation will have to take over as a workforce in the area, he said. "We have got to be able to attract that workforce. We've got to be able to train that workforce through our school systems," although he added he learned from his recent race that north Alabama has great school systems. 

He said some people question the growth because of the hectic pace it brings, but he said new jobs allow children to make a good living, keeping them in the area and near families. He related how his own son came back home after several years to working the banking industry, due to the growth in Huntsville. 

O'Mary said in comments to the clubs afterward, saying Battle has been "a friend to this city," giving information on industrial recruitment that has been helpful to Jasper. O'Mary said Battle has been an expert in the field, helping create 24,000, which is larger than Jasper's population. 

"Mayor Battle is a force in the development of this state, and I am so pleased he is our friend," he said.  

Reprinted from the Daily Mountain Eagle with permission.

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Located in northwest Alabama on Interstate Highway 22, Jasper is a thriving retail hub, center of growing industrial development and home to approximately 14,000 residents. Enjoying one of the top ranked education systems in the State of Alabama, ongoing renovated Park & Recreation programs and its close proximity to the outstanding recreation areas such as Smith Lake, Bankhead National Forest and the Warrior River makes it an attractive area for relocation. Mayor David O'Mary would like to welcome you to our city and web site.


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