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Officials stress need for new industrial park

With limited available land for future industrial prospects,Brookhaven and Lincoln County are nearly “out of business” as faras economic development, chamber of commerce officials saidThursday.

“We’ve got to get ourselves back in that business as soon aspossible,” Bill Sones, Industrial Development Foundation Parks andSites committee chairman, told city and county leaders during thegathering at the Woodmen of the World building.

With the help of an economic development grant, chamberofficials are studying six sites as possible locations for a newindustrial park. Sones sought commitments from city and countyleaders to assist in the new park effort as it develops.

“It’s going to be vital for us to come together over the nextfew years to begin planning a new industrial park that will serveus for the next 20-30 years,” said Sones, who estimated thebest-case scenario for new park creation would be three or fouryears.

According to totals presented Thursday, the current park’s 12businesses have 2,675 employees and represent about 35 percent ofthe county’s total employed work force.

Based on direct park business employment and spin-off jobs,almost $96 million a year in payroll is attributable to theindustrial park, Sones said. During the presentation, recordedinterviews from park employees demonstrated the impact the parkbusinesses have.

“McLane changed my life for the better,” said Steve Yawn, aLincoln County resident and vice-president of sales for McLaneSouthern. “I am not sure what I would be doing if this opportunitydid not come along – an answer to my prayers. McLane has providedeverything from a family standpoint to be able to provide for afamily.”

Delphi employee Georgia Kelly Payton returned to Brookhaven fromAtlanta to work at the facility.

“It was a blessing to come back to my hometown and be able tofind work in the area of discipline that I was trained,” Paytonsaid.

In addition, park businesses pay over $2.1 million in city andcounty property taxes a year.

However, the current park is virtually full. The only availableland is 25 acres being used as a police firing range, seven acresof oddly-shaped land and an option for officials to buy 40 acresnorth of the current park.

“That 40-acre option is the only thing keeping us in the ballgame in economic development,” Sones said.

The state’s last 16 major economic development projects requiredan average of over 100 acres. Excluding the Nissan project, theaverage acreage requirement was over 50.

“We just don’t have that,” Sones said, explaining that thecommunity isn’t even getting calls from industries that want 40-,50- or 100-acre sites for their projects.

To address the situation, Sones said a 600-acre site is neededfor a new industrial park.

The estimated land cost is $1.2-$1.6 million, while providingneeded infrastructure will cost about $3,000-$4,000 an acre. Totalprojects estimates ranged from $3.2-$4.4 million.

Current available funding totals about $1 million, includingmoney from an economic assistance grant, IDF land account funds andpledges from the Vision Partnership campaign.

Sites under consideration include two in the north part of thecounty near Highway 51, a site west of the city on 16th Sectionland, one southwest of the city near Jackson-Liberty Road andanother southeast of the city near Highway 583.

Also included for consideration is land occupied by the softballcomplex, even though a recommendation on that land could meanmoving the facility.

“We feel like it’s a viable option,” Sones said about thepossibility.

John Endicott, Industrial Development Foundation chairman, alsodiscussed the need to proceed with new park planning.

“We’re going to miss out on three or four years of economicprojects if we don’t come together pretty quickly,” Endicottsaid.

Sones said the process is still in the early stages. Followingan engineering study, a recommendation will be made on which of thesix sites to pursue.

“We’ll have the pros and cons of that site and the other sites,”Sones said.

Sones said there were positives and negatives for each of thesites. Regardless, the meeting’s message was that more land will beneeded if Brookhaven and Lincoln County are to continue play in theeconomic development ball game.

“Without industrial property, there is no economic development,”Sones said.