U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Tuesday announced that the Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.7 million grant to the University of West Alabama to improve barge access at the Port of Epes Industrial Park in Sumter County.
The Port of Epes is an inland port located on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The EDA grant, to be located in a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Opportunity Zone, will be matched with $540,000 in local funds.
“The Trump Administration is committed to helping communities in Alabama and across the nation grow through strategic investment,” stated Secretary Ross. “This project will fund improvements to transportation infrastructure at the Port of Epes Industrial Park to help a major wood pellet company increase their operational capacity, attract new businesses, and advance efforts to capitalize on the project’s Opportunity Zone designation.”
This comes after Enviva last year announced its plan to invest $175 million to construct a wood pellet production plant at the industrial park, which is located about 10 miles north of Livingston. The project is expected to create 85 jobs and will be enabled by the EDA grant.
“This $1.7 million EDA grant for the Port of Epes infrastructure project will improve barge access and increase the capacity of the industrial park,” said U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). “The funding will help create jobs and fuel the local economy, encouraging and enabling long-term economic benefits to West Alabama. I am pleased to have worked with the Administration to support this project and look forward to its completion.”
The EDA funding will go to one of Alabama’s 158 Opportunity Zones. Created by President Donald J. Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Opportunity Zones are spurring economic development in economically-distressed communities nationwide.
Governor Kay Ivey remarked, “Already, the Opportunity Zones across our state are helping boost the chance for economic prosperity, and this $1.7 million investment in Livingston, Alabama certainly adds to that effort.”
“I am proud that the Trump Administration continues following through on their commitment to grow opportunities across our state and the nation. This is a welcome investment, and I am grateful to President Trump and Secretary Ross for their constant support for Alabama,” she continued.
In June 2019, EDA added Opportunity Zones as an Investment Priority, which increases the number of catalytic Opportunity Zone-related projects that EDA can fund to fuel greater public investment in these areas.
“EDA is pleased to support local strategies to spur additional development at the Port of Epes Industrial Park,” commented Dana Gartzke, performing the delegated duties of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “This project will provide Sumter County with expanded industrial transportation infrastructure to support businesses and drive development. The project’s location in an Opportunity Zone will further transform the community.”
This project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Commission, which EDA funds to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs.
“I am so excited that the Port of Epes in Livingston in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District has been granted the funding necessary to promote economic opportunity for our workers and families in the Black Belt,” said U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) in a statement. “There is nothing more important to me than increasing opportunity in my district. That is why I have fought so hard to make Alabama’s Opportunity Zone program work for areas like the Black Belt, where communities will most benefit from investments and job development.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn
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