How Alabama’s Poorest County Landed Golden Dragon (Kay Ivey)
A phone call and impromptu site visit settled it. Chinese company Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group would build its first U.S.-based manufacturing facility in the small town of Pine Hill in Wilcox County, my home county.
But every “overnight success” has a backstory and this one was many years in the making.
George Alford, Director of the Wilcox County Industrial Development Authority, and Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day in neighboring Clarke County forged a working relationship through the years. With more than four decades in economic development, George knows a thing or two about forming relationships. In his words, “It’s like an old dance contest. You get a good partner and you keep dancing.” Thomasville was getting new prospects and Wilcox County had good sites. Together, they worked to attract economic development to their shared region of the state.
In March 2011, Golden Dragon announced its plans for the U.S. manufacturing facility. After a competitive process against 62 other sites, the company selected a 50 acre plat in Thomasville. The project would add 300 new jobs and generate millions for the local economy. Meanwhile, a pipe coating company was prospecting a 260 acre site in Pine Hill.
On a hot day in August 2011, George was meeting with Mayor Day on the company’s proposal. Mayor Day left the meeting to take what ended up being a critical phone call. The plan was off. The company had decided to triple the size of the project. It would need a bigger site and Clarke County didn’t have one. Golden Dragon Copper engineers had already begun initial work on the project so they were conveniently in town that day. Mayor Day asked George if he would let the engineers survey the site in Pine Hill. It had all the necessary amenities – water, sewer, natural gas and power and was situated adjacent to rail. Not to mention, it was five times the size of the Thomasville site. Within a few hours, Golden Dragon representatives laid eyes on the land and agreed almost on the spot. The $100 million investment and now up to 500 new jobs would be coming to Wilcox County.
This month the company officially cuts the ribbon on the new facility. I am proud to be a part of the ceremony for this significant economic success in my home county, its first new major industry development in 45 years. Even in Alabama’s poorest county, progress is being made.
This story is a testament to the value of local officials working together. Many State, business, and community leaders, as well as key legislation also primed the pump and played an important role in landing Golden Dragon; but at a critical moment when Alabama was at risk of losing the project to another state, it was the fortified relationship between George and Mayor Day that saved it. As George said, “We did not let a county line stop us from working together.” As the old adage goes, it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.