Pike County team challenged

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 7, 2001

during selection process


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Marsha Gaylard had a list of site specifications, but not much else when Pike County first began courting a Wal-Mart distribution center. But through teamwork and innovation, the county landed the 600-employee facility.

Gaylard, president of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, said she received a call in January from the Alabama Development Office saying that an industry was interested in locating somewhere in Alabama.

Gaylard was given a list of criteria for a site: A flat, 150-acre parcel in close proximity to U.S. Highway 231. Gaylard said the unknown company also wanted the site to have electricity, sewer, water and natural gas.

"The most important thing they wanted was a flat tract of land," Gaylard said. Working off a plat map, four sites were suggested. The company asked for one more.

"I had to give them information on what kind of soil was on the site, who provided the utilities and much more information," she said. "It took a long time to compile the information on all four sites."

Gaylard submitted two sites in Brundidge, a site in Springhill and a site between Troy and Brundidge.

"For a long time I didn’t think any of the sites were exactly what they were looking for," Gaylard said.

Aside from not thinking Pike County had what the unknown company was looking for, Gaylard also didn’t know which states were competing to land the same company. She said normally four or five states compete for an industry, but when she finally learned which states were competing there were only three – Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.

A site-selection-consulting firm came for three site visits during the process. For each visit, a team of people provided in-depth information related to each of the sites. "Each site had a different utility provider, telephone service and a different water system so it took a lot of people to give the information," she said. "The people on the team were people who could give information about the different sites met with the consulting team."

The consulting firm working with Wal-Mart sent more than one scouting team to Pike County. One team came to look at the site; a second human resources team came to perform an in-depth study on the community, the education system, the workforce and other aspects of the community.

"The critical issues were site and available workforce," Gaylard said. "And as the process went along, all but two sites were eliminated."

The remaining sites were what Gaylard called the Gibson site and the Garrett site, which was chosen. "The infrastructure was already in place and the site already had a good road going to it and the utilities were already in place."

Still, the selection process was a challenge.

"We ran third the whole time behind a location in Baldwin County and a location in Florida," she said. "And we were really almost knocked out of the running."

A couple of factors – including transportation – held Pike County in third during the race. But quick thinking and teamwork paid off in the end.

"Our site was on the edge of the transportation route because most of the merchandise from the distribution center will be going south," Gaylard said.

"That was why it was so critical to get legislation passed that would offer an incentive that would offset the costs."

The Legislature passed a capital tax credit that was offered in both Pike County and Baldwin County to make it fair to both locations. "Gov. Siegelman and legislators in the southeast deserve a lot of credit for passing the legislation that leveled the playing field," Gaylard said.

Another challenge was the available workforce in Pike County.

The Wal-Mart distribution will employ about 600 people; for that, the company needs a pool of 2,500 to 3,000 potential employees. That made Pike County’s unemployment rate a mixed blessing, until local recruiters convinced Wal-Mart officials that neighboring counties would contribute workers.

"When they first asked for the available workforce they only wanted it from a 15-mile radius," Gaylard said. "I convinced them that we draw from a much larger radius. I told them that some people drive from as far away as 70 miles to work in Pike County… There have been layoffs in other counties and their unemployment rates aren’t as low as ours. Legislators from those areas knew that people in their counties would benefit from the distribution center and they were eager to help us."

Convincing Wal-Mart to locate its distribution center in Brundidge was no easy task, but Gaylard said teamwork brought the investment and job opportunities to Pike County.

"There are so many people that deserve credit for Brundidge getting the project," Gaylard said.

Troy did not have 150 acres of flat land and a property owner who would allow Gaylard to submit a site, she said, but Troy played a major role in the project. "Mayor Lunsford was very supportive," she said. "All of the politicians were, no matter where they were from. If Troy had not had an airport for the corporate people to fly in to, they would not have located here. If Troy did not have a full-time fire department, they would not have located here.

"It goes to show that no one person can bring a company to a community. I want people to understand that. This has been the biggest team project in Pike County and everyone has worked together."