Fueling the Economic Engine

Collaborative investment yields 80 jobs for Wiregrass

Construction was completed on the speculative building in the Geneva County Industrial Park in 2021.

Years of hard work, proactive leadership, and regional investment and collaboration continue to pay off as a glove and shoe cover manufacturer prepares to open in the Geneva County Industrial Park speculative building.

Creation of the facility, designed to attract new businesses, was possible with financial commitments from Wiregrass Electric Cooperative and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, its wholesale energy supplier, and the Geneva County Commission.

“This project epitomizes what we can do when we have good leaders in the right places that are doing the right things,” says Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC) Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro.

ISA Alabama Corporation will create at least 80 jobs after it opens in the 45,000-square-foot building next to the Air Performance facility off Alabama Highway 167 in Hartford.

Sparking Ideas

Alabama state Senator Donnie Chesteen expresses appreciation for Wiregrass Electric Cooperative’s leadership in making the speculative building a reality.

Projects like the speculative building begin with economic development meetings that include business representatives, civic leaders and other stakeholders. They represent the state, region and local communities.

Several WEC senior Staff leaders hold positions on economic and workforce development boards. But one of WEC’s greatest contributions is the Grow Dothan-Geneva County initiative meetings that invite key economic, government and educational representatives from across the region to share ideas and updates.

Through financial contributions from participating organizations, Grow Dothan has played a vital role in attracting companies like the fixed-wing flight trainer CAE, Commercial Jet and a Gateway Tire distribution facility. Conversations that began in Grow Dothan meetings also led to the creation of the Geneva Regional Career Technical Center — known as G-Tech — for workforce development training for high schoolers.

The idea for the speculative building came out of conversations about obstacles to recruiting new business to the Wiregrass.

“Most businesses looking to relocate and expand are looking for existing spaces with infrastructure and buildings — what we call product,” says Matt Parker, president of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce. “If you don’t have a product to market, you don’t have opportunity — that’s the challenge.”

Electrifying the Economy

Alabama state Representative Jeff Sorrells lauds the regional collaboration that created new jobs for the Wiregrass.

Geneva County already had an industrial park conveniently located and connected to a reliable source of power with Wiregrass Electric’s electrical grid and Troy Cable/C-Spire’s high-speed fiber internet.

Well-positioned for new business, Geneva County Commission Chairman Toby Seay wanted to put his district on the radar for emerging opportunities.

“We had the mindset that if we do not invest in ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to invest in us?” Seay says.
Leaders with Wiregrass Electric shared that goal and fervor to recruit industry to the area.

“Everything we do is born out of the desire and intention of benefiting members,” Kimbro says. “Growing the community and providing opportunity and hope through economic development activities that create jobs and improve quality of life are key parts of how we accomplish that.”

To bring a facility to Geneva County, WEC utilized a program from its power distributor — PowerSouth — to begin the construction project. For more than 20 years, PowerSouth has operated its Business Development Loan Program, which funds construction of speculative buildings. The Hartford facility was the 23rd such project funded through the program, according to Caleb Goodwyn, a PowerSouth community development and
financing representative.

WEC provided assistance in the form of a four-year, no-interest loan from PowerSouth to cover 50% of the building’s cost. But to obtain the loan, WEC had to provide 25% of the building costs, while other community groups, such as government institutions, contributed the remainder.

“This wouldn’t be possible without our Board of Trustees believing in this proposal and allowing WEC to participate in this spec building program for the first time,” Kimbro says.

Vision Takes Shape

Toby Seay, Geneva County Commission chairman, worked closely with WEC and PowerSouth to invest in a speculative building in Hartford.

Workers broke ground on the building in August 2020 during uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Geneva County Commission, state Senator Donnie Chesteen, state Representative Jeff Sorrells, the Dothan Chamber, the Alabama Department of Commerce, Alabama Department of Transportation, and local city leaders of Hartford, Dothan and Enterprise were involved in the spec building project and recruiting ISA Alabama Corp. to the area.

“These organizations worked hard as a team, and we are very pleased to be growing our business in ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’” ISA Alabama Corp. President John Feusner says.

In October, an agreement between Oregon-based ISA Corp. and local and state governmental entities was finalized that represented a multi-million-dollar investment into the community and at least 80 new jobs over the next 2 years.

ISA Alabama Corp. will produce nitrile gloves, latex gloves and boot coverings that supply an array of industries.

The next steps include finishing out the spec building to fit the company’s exact needs, construction of an industrial access road extension by the Alabama Department of Transportation and initiating a hiring plan. The company plans to be operational in the third quarter of 2023.

Bright Outlook

“It’s been obvious during this project, and others, that the people in our state and our region are all in on the Wiregrass,” says Sorrells. “I’m ecstatic, to be honest with you, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds because I know the coalition is working together.”

WEC has its ear to the ground and eye on the horizon as it continues to seek out opportunities that benefit the Wiregrass and its residents.

“We know that a rising tide floats all boats, and that’s what this project is going to do for the folks here in the communities we serve,” Kimbro says. “The Wiregrass is an economic powerhouse in the Southeast region in both the rural and urban areas. Wiregrass Electric is proud to be an active cog in that machine. We will continue to engage our community in ways that give our members a voice in that environment and look for ways to make a positive difference. There’s plenty to look forward to on that horizon.”