The Alabama Power Company and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative were both named this month to Site Selection’s annual list of “Top Utilities in Economic Development” that recognizes a very select group of utilities across the United States.
“Dependable and affordable power still lies at the root” of site selection, the publication said about the honorees.
The write-up also praised the companies’ tremendous impact on their respective local communities, saying, “Lest we forget, utilities’ own operations do their part too, with the power company contributing to overall community welfare in a multitude of ways from job creation to taxes.”
While Alabama Power, the state’s largest utility, and its work is known by a broad audience, PowerSouth’s well-deserved recognition has come from their efforts in rural areas of the Yellowhammer State – a much needed success story for locales that often fly under the radar compared to the bright lights of Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, etc.
PowerSouth, based in the Covington County seat of Andalusia, is an energy cooperative that serves consumers in 39 Alabama and 10 Florida counties through its 20 distribution members — 16 electric cooperatives and four municipal electric systems. Its distribution members blanket southeast Alabama, running all the way up to Talladega as well as across to Washington County on the Mississippi line.
This adds up to 435,000 residential, commercial and industrial consumers that find themselves “end-use members” of PowerSouth. In these rural areas, PowerSouth’s hard work does not go unnoticed. And now, the energy cooperative is gaining the widespread appreciation and acclaim that it deserves.
“We are proud to receive recognition as a Top Utility in Economic Development from Site Selection Magazine,” PowerSouth Vice President of External Affairs Horace Horn said in a statement.
He continued, “We have a dedicated team that strives to be a sought after resource for our electric cooperative members and our local economic development organizations. We are grateful to have the opportunity to partner with the Alabama Department of Commerce, EDPA and other organizations that work to create jobs and capital investment in Alabama.”
Recently, Alabama ranked atop “Global Trade” magazine’s 2018 list of the best states for manufacturing in the nation, and a big factor – that often goes unnoticed – towards this achievement is the important work done by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), which PowerSouth and Alabama Power both sponsor.
The selection of Alabama in the ranking of top manufacturing states came one month after “Business Facilities,” an economic development focused publication, named the Yellowhammer State as the best in a business-climate ranking.
PowerSouth Governmental Affairs and Economic Development Manager Taylor Williams largely attributes the states’ recent success to the pro-growth policies the Alabama Legislature has implemented along with Governor Kay Ivey and Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield’s leadership.
Site selection opportunities are also key to Alabama’s lofty rankings, and Site Selection’s list makes it abundantly clear that PowerSouth and Alabama Power’s efforts are significantly helping to drive the state’s economic boom.
While PowerSouth is focused on promoting the development of the communities its members serve, the company also works to promote the entire state of Alabama. PowerSouth is a member of not only the important EDPA, but also the Alabama Marketing Allies which showcases the state to site selectors and other prospective industries. Other members include Alabama Power, the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, Southeast Gas, Regions Bank, the Alabama Department of Commerce and EDPA.
PowerSouth’s economic development efforts are strongly supported by its President and CEO, Gary Smith, and its Board of Directors and are guided by its strategic plan – the PowerSouth Playbook, which was created in 2016 to compliment what the Department of Commerce is doing through its “Accelerate Alabama” plan.
The playbook includes metrics in each area of economic development, which are tracked and reported to PowerSouth’s board on a regular basis. These metrics include recruitment of targeted industries, community development, product development and existing industry.
Community development and existing industry are two areas setting PowerSouth apart as it works with its members to grow jobs and improve their quality of life.
One of the extra areas in community development that the company is helping its members with is moving high-speed, affordable broadband capacity into underserved areas.
“Communities without strong information infrastructure are rarely viable candidates for economic growth. Businesses will only locate where they can communicate,” Smith explained.
PowerSouth also works closely with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to administer federal funding through their Rural Economic Development Loan (REDL) and Grant (REDG) programs. Under the former, the USDA provides zero interest loans to local utilities and they, in turn, pass the money through to local businesses that will create and retain employment in rural areas.
To date, PowerSouth and its distribution member have secured $25,025,060 through these USDA programs, resulting in massive capital investments of more than $146,156,540 and the creation of approximately 3,934 new jobs in the rural areas they serve.
The company utilized this program in 2017 to provide Dorsey Trailer in Elba, AL with a zero percent interest, ten-year loan for $1,000,000. The purpose of the loan was to assist Dorsey with access to capital to rebuild after a fire in their paint booth, expand a production line and create 50 new jobs. Since receiving the loan, Dorsey Trailer has thrived, increasing employment from 250 to 380 jobs.
Next, PowerSouth’s Business Development Loan Program is crucial to their economic development efforts. This program is used to construct speculative buildings, provide infrastructure for multi-tenant industrial parks and refurbish existing commercial and industrial facilities.
PowerSouth and its distribution members have, thus far, utilized this program to construct 20 speculative buildings, resulting in greater investment and job creation in our rural areas.
For example, the Troy Industrial Development Board, South Alabama Electric Cooperative and PowerSouth Energy partnered to construct a 50,000 square feet speculative building in the City of Troy in 2012. As a result, the American firearms maker Kimber Manufacturing will open a $38 million production facility in the city, creating 366 jobs over the next five years.
The Talladega County Economic Development Authority, Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative and PowerSouth also partnered to construct a 100,000 sq. ft. speculative building in Lincoln in 2017. This resulted in Lohr North America deciding to locate a facility at the site, invest more than $26,000,000 in the local economy and create around 140 new jobs.
For PowerSouth, the importance existing industry plays in the economic vitality of the state’s rural areas cannot be overstated. The company’s Business Retention and Expansion (BREPS) program is centered on creating partnerships that reinforce customer service and success, as they strive each year to visit as many companies as possible throughout PowerSouth’s service areas. These on-site visits, along with additional communications, provide vital information as to the resources and incentives businesses need to be successful and to expand in Alabama.
Efforts like these are key to the state’s continued economic surge. Right now, as Ivey would say, “Alabama is working again.” With private sector initiatives and partnerships driven by the likes of PowerSouth and the Alabama Power Company, Alabamians have great hope that this success will continue.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn