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Sen. Gudger: Shovel-ready sites essential for Alabama economy to thrive

State Senator Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) emphasized the need for having more shovel-ready sites for the state to compete for economic development projects.

Gudger said that the state has only one shovel-ready megasite, over 1,000 acres, and needs more as well as smaller sites with utilities in place to compete against other states.

Gudger made the comments speaking with Rightside Radio host Phil Williams during a discussion on economic incentives and how to best grow the state of Alabama.

Williams is a former Republican State Senator who represented Etowah, Cherokee, and St. Clair Counties from 2010 to 2018.

“There are only two megasites, one in Baldwin County and one where I live in Etowah County,” Williams said.

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“One is already taken with Novelis so really we only have one and that is in Etowah County,” Gudger said. “We only have one megasite – we need more than that. We also need smaller sites.”

Gudger said that the state passed what became the SEEDS Act to invest in shovel ready sites back in the Wallace Administration; but over the years has not appropriately funded it.

Sen. Gudger is the chairman of the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee in the Alabama Legislature. Williams chaired that same committee when he was in the Senate.

Williams said that the competition between states for industries is “cutthroat.”

Gudger agreed and said that the state is facing stiff competition from states like Georgia and Virginia.

“They are doing four or five times what we are doing,” Gudger said.

Gudger said that it is important to make sure that a potential site has utilities already on site.

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“Without those utilities you are going to hear that is a beautiful piece of property; but it is not ready for us to build on,” Gudger said.

Gudger said that “it is a balancing act” to prepare an undeveloped site into a utility ready location with the interests of Alabama Power and other utilities spending money to bring utilities to a site without any guarantee of a revenue generating customer locating there. There is also the issue of how much utilities infrastructure a company actually needs.

“It is kind of like do we need a fire hose of water, a garden hose of water, or a whole fire hydrant full of water,” Gudger said.

Bringing too much utilities infrastructure to a site could also be a problem,

“It might be overkill,” Gudger said.

Williams said that past Legislatures would, “Just throw money” at companies to get them to come to Alabama; but there were instances where the company did not perform as promised so the legislature introduced “clawbacks” to get incentives back when the company does not produce the jobs that they agreed to.

“They have to invest here and be here for over a year before they get the incentives,” Gudger said. Gudger thanked Williams and previous legislators for adding the clawback provisions.

Gudger agreed with Williams that the state’s low workforce participation rate is a problem.

“Those are the people that are not even getting off their couch to go look for work,” Gudger said.

Gudger said that workforce development is an area that the Legislature, AIDT, and the Department of Commerce are looking at improving.

Gudger explained that recruiting companies to come to the state of Alabama and for existing companies to expand in the state of Alabama requires a combination of site preparation, workforce development, and incentives.

RELATED: Norfolk Southern invests $8.7M in Etowah County megasite

“We have got to have the right sites, the right people, and we as the legislature have to be there with the right incentives,” Gudger said.

Gudger is a businessowner himself – the owner of Southern Accents in Cullman.

“My father started the business in 1969, and I just grew up in the business,” Gudger said.

Gudger and American Accents has been featured on the cable television show American Pickers and has a close relationship with the show hosts.

“We talk with them weekly,” Gudger said.

“If you want architectural salvage, I am the biggest in the Southeast,” Gudger said. “We are a one stop shop if you are looking for architectural salvage.”

“My father said that we are like Home Depot, but in 1882,” Gudger said.

Gudger was elected to the Alabama Senate in 2018 and re-elected in 2022. He previously served the people of Cullman on the city council, including ten years as the council president.

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