Better Together

Agency markets region’s strengths

Growing the Wiregrass region is about providing hope and opportunity — a vision Wiregrass Electric Cooperative shares with many others in Southeast Alabama. A low cost of living, hardworking people, turnkey sites and a collaborative spirit makes this corner of the state a welcoming destination for new industry.

Regional approach

Some attendees at Elected Officials Day include, from left, Alex Cate, director of entrepreneurship for HudsonAlpha; Scott Farmer, executive director of Southeast Regional Planning and Development Commission; Mark Saliba, mayor of Dothan; Brad Kimbro, Wiregrass Electric’s chief operating officer; State Sen. Donnie Chesteen; and Dean Mitchell, executive director of HudsonAlpha Wiregrass.

That shared interest in a better, brighter future is the catalyst for Grow Southeast Alabama. The organization brings together representatives from 11 counties — Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Crenshaw, Coffee, Dale, Henry, Geneva, Houston, Covington and Pike — who work together to advance industrial growth while leveraging the region’s existing strengths in the aerospace, automotive, agriculture, forestry and wood product sectors.

“For a long time, our corner of the state has kind of been the quiet corner. It often gets forgotten, so we want to make some noise,” Grow Southeast Alabama Executive Director Melody Lee says. “It’s easier to package, brand and market ourselves as a region when we’re looking at attracting industry and working with lawmakers about decisions that impact us all.”

Working collaboratively with local elected officials, economic developers, utility partners and leaders in education and workforce development, Grow Southeast Alabama amplifies the region’s message that the area is open for business.

“We’re often disadvantaged because of lack of interstate access,” says David Padgett, Grow Southeast Alabama president and Bullock County economic development director. “However, because of low unemployment and employment challenges related to changing demographics around interstates, industries are looking elsewhere. We want them to know that we are ready, willing and able to do business and create industry here.”

Powerful allies

One way that Grow Southeast Alabama helps spread the word about what the area has to offer is by building relationships with elected officials. “Our goal is really promoting regionalism by fostering that collaboration,” Lee says. “Having a new industry setting up shop in one county is great for that county, but the economic impact doesn’t stop at the county line — it has a positive ripple effect for neighboring counties and really this whole region.”

Grow Southeast Alabama celebrated those relationships by sponsoring Elected Officials Day, a luncheon hosted by South Alabama Electric Cooperative in Troy on Jan. 12. The focus of the event was updating officials about ongoing economic development projects and the needs of the community. Many state elected officials — including Sens. Donnie Chesteen and Billy Beasley, Reps. Marcus Paramore, Berry Forte and Steve Clouse, and Secretary of State Wes Allen — were present at the event, alongside city and county elected officials.

“Our goal at the moment is targeting elected officials in the southeast and state departments to get our message to them about our goals and economic development interests,” Padgett says. “We know that officials at the state and federal level are working to grow the economy in this area — facilitating relationships and keeping them informed help them to advocate for us.”

Improving infrastructure

Several electric utilities were represented at GSEA’s Elected Officials Day with attendance by (from left) Thomas Tyson, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative economic development representative; Brad Kimbro, WEC’s COO; Melody Lee, GSEA executive director; and Andy Kimbro, SAEC vice president of member services.

Broadband access, road improvements, electric vehicle charging stations and workforce development are all important infrastructure issues that Grow Southeast Alabama is addressing with the help of legislators.

As key players in the advancement of the Southeast’s infrastructure, Wiregrass Electric and its wholesale power provider PowerSouth Energy Cooperative are 2 of Grow Southeast Alabama’s utility partners.

“Grow Southeast Alabama is a model of regional cooperation that our local industries have grown to depend on as a critical factor in their success,” says Brad Kimbro, WEC Chief Operating Officer and Grow Southeast Alabama executive board member. “As an economic region, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. It’s tough to work alone. When you’re working as a group, you can pool resources and get more exposure.”

WEC provides reliable electricity distribution
to a large, and mostly rural, service area. Its ever-expanding power grid is a part of the critical infrastructure that drives business growth, which is why WEC often participates in conversations about strengthening the area’s economy.

“Infrastructure is important for growing the economy and that’s why Wiregrass Electric is always involved in these conversations,” Kimbro says. “We can’t thank our legislative delegation enough for all they do to work with us and support our needs so that our community can continue to grow and prosper.”

Local impacts

Broadband for the Wiregrass, a partnership with Troy Cable, a C Spire company, launched following those conversations about improving infrastructure.

Just as electricity, water and sewer are critical utilities, reliable internet is now considered an essential service needed to run a business. This collaboration between WEC and Troy Cable introduced high-speed broadband to 10,000 members. Access to high-speed broadband generates economic power in a community. For example, that fast fiber connection helped Geneva County Industrial Park attract a tenant in a speculative building that will bring 80 new jobs to the Wiregrass over the next 2 years.

Lee and Padgett agree that Grow Southeast Alabama would not be possible without the support of utility partners, like WEC, lending credibility to the organization.

“WEC will always be on the front line of these conversations that ultimately improve the quality of life for our members and our region,” Kimbro says. “We are always looking for active roles to play in driving positive opportunities that make Wiregrass a great place to live, work, and raise a family.”