The Birmingham News
"Shelby looks decade ahead to shed commuter image"
Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock says the County Commission is looking 10 years down the road with a new public-private cooperative initiative to make Shelby County not only a desirable place to live, but also a desirable place to work.
The state's fastest-growing county has a reputation as a bedroom community for the metropolitan Birmingham area, but now the county wants to tweak that reputation by adding jobs.
Dudchock said the goal is low- or no-emissions industry that needs highly educated workers. This 10-year effort is similar to what the county has accomplished in the past with parks, senior centers, a new county jail and a juvenile detention center.
Those projects, plus the present initiative, Dudchock said, represent $80 million invested in the county's infrastructure without borrowing any money.
"We think there may be some financing involved in this employment initiative down the road," Dudchock said, "but it is just too early to say at this point."
The idea - for which the County Commission is budgeting $500,000 to $800,000 a year starting in the fiscal 2008 budget - offers an added benefit of easing traffic congestion on the I-65 and U.S. 280 corridors.
"We have a number of people who drive through Shelby County every day to go to work," Dudchock said. If some of those trips end just west of the Coosa River on U.S. 280 in the Harpersville and Vincent areas, he said, those are cars eliminated from the congestion equation.
Shelby County's greatest disadvantage in the development of industry is its high employment, he said. Fewer people are unemployed in Shelby County than anywhere in Alabama.
"However, we have an educated population, and they make it attractive," Dudchock said. "To be fully employed is to some industries an impediment, but when you add our drive-through potential we do have an employment base."
Efforts will be concentrated along the two major commuter corridors, he said, particularly in the eastern area of the county.
On the county's west side, Shelby West Corporate Park already is up and running, with AGC Automotive Americas as a flagship.
AGC produces the windshield, front doors, side and rear glass for the Mercedes M-Class, plus automotive glass for Hyundai's Santa Fe and Honda's Odyssey and Pilot.
Shelby County's educated population makes the county's eastern area a likely match for a research park, Dudchock said.
"Pharmaceuticals, technological advancement - those are good candidates. We are also looking at who would want to live here," he said.
The county already is talking, through Dudchock and the Shelby County Economic and Industrial Development Authority, to major landowners regarding potential partnerships in developing sites ranging from 100 acres to 1,500 acres.
"We don't want to name names yet," Dudchock said, "because we aren't that close to an agreement. However, I think we will be able to make these private entities understand that a partnership with Shelby County in creating more good jobs here is a win-win situation."
"Now that we have the people, we need places for them to shop and to work," said County Commission Chairman Joel Bearden.
"I am definitely for this. This is not money we are spending," Bearden said. "This is money we are investing.
"My idea when I first came in" as chairman, Bearden said, "was to go over around 280 on the south side of the mountain where there is plenty of room. This is truly an investment in and for Shelby County."
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