State approves $5 million for Mega Site work


BAY MINETTE – Preparations of the 3,000-acre Mega Site for new industry in north Baldwin should soon move forward following state approval Tuesday of $5 million for improvements, project supporters said.

The Growing Alabama Commission voted Tuesday to approve $5 million in state tax credits for improvements on the site, Lee Lawson, director of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, said Wednesday. The improvements will include grading 200 acres at the site, construction of a 1-million-square-foot building pad and a 1.5-mile connection to the CSX rail line. Lawson said the EDA will also apply in 2020 for an additional $2 million for more improvements.

Lawson said work on the grading and building pad should be completed in six to nine months and the rail connection finished within a year.

The Baldwin County Commission voted July 25 to transfer the county-owned site to the EDA so the alliance could apply to the Alabama Department of Revenue for the money. The transfer agreement requires the EDA to give the property back to the county when work is completed, David Conner, county attorney, said.

“It will not be a cost to the county, but will be a great benefit to the county in dollars and also in-kind preparations for that site for a future potential development entity,” Conner said.

Lawson said state law allows the EDA to apply for funds that the county cannot request.

“Through the Growing Alabama Act there’s a process in which we are able, as a local economic development organization that’s designated in the law we are able to apply for Growing Alabama credits. These are dollar-for-dollar state tax credits that allow private individuals and companies with Alabama income tax liability to ‘donate’ money to the local economic development organization,” Lawson said. “This money can then go to site enhancements and improvements for economic development.”

The Baldwin County Commission purchased the first 2,400 acres of the site near Bay Minette in 2012 and later bought another 600 acres.

Commissioner Jeb Ball, whose district includes the site, said Lawson and others have been working for years to recruit industry to the location.

“Countless hours have gone into this since I’ve come to know Lee,” Ball said. “I know that he is doing the best job that he can do for us to make sure that this all gets done right. I have full faith in him and his company and what he is doing.”

Commission Chairman Charles “Skip” Gruber said the EDA has done a good job bringing industry to Baldwin, but the county has faced obstacles in attracting major manufacturers to the Mega Site.

“Other people with better incentives end up relocating in places like Mississippi or Tennessee. We had one not long ago that was looking at us. They relocated, I think, to Arkansas. They just got a better deal. The state stuck more money into it. These companies are looking for the best deal they can get,” Gruber said. “This is one of the things, hopefully, that will help us to make that happen. This will help.”

Commissioner Joe Davis said the EDA has also done well in helping existing Baldwin companies expand and add jobs.

Economic development is not only about bringing in brand new things and new opportunities. It’s about helping those that are in existence, growing our existing businesses,” Davis said. “We’re interested in creating job opportunities and growth that will impact not only now, but well into the future.”