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MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2007

Counties seek to lure German steel plant

MOBILE (AP) — A multi-county partnership is discussing how to share the cost of incentives needed to bring the ThyssenKrupp AG steel plant to Alabama.

An announcement is expected next month on whether the German steelmaker will build a $2.9 billion, 2,700-worker steel mill in North Mobile County or Southeast Louisiana.

Alabama and Louisiana each submitted final bids for the project in late March, offering packages that could exceed $300 million in cash, in-kind services and other incentives.

“We’ve put forward a proposal that is, without question, a win for the company and a win for the people of Alabama,” said Neal Wade, director of the Alabama Development Office and the state’s top industrial recruiter. “The company has a big decision to make, and they’re being very thorough about it, as they should be. But we have no doubt they can be successful here.”

Sharing expenses

A group of 20 elected officials from five counties surrounding the proposed plant site — Baldwin, Escambia, Mobile and Washington counties in Southwest Alabama, and George County in Southeast Mississippi — met April 12 in Mobile to begin discussing how to share the incentives.

No financial figures were disclosed.

The partnership is modeled on those formed during the state’s recruitment of automakers Mercedes-Benz and Honda, which operate assembly plants in Vance and Lincoln, respectively.

“We have to figure out how we can all participate, because we all stand to benefit if ThyssenKrupp comes here,” said Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine, who hosted the hour-long meeting in a first-floor conference room at Mobile Government Plaza.

Borrowing limits

Alabama lawmakers earlier this year approved a measure that would raise the state’s borrowing capacity by $400 million, providing a potential cushion for ThyssenKrupp’s incentive package.

But Gov. Bob Riley has said that the increase, which must still be approved by voters in a statewide election June 5, is designed to support more than a dozen major prospects that Alabama is actively courting.

Wade said the state is counting on local governments to help carry costs associated with the projects.

“The support has to come from the communities. That will make the difference” on many of the projects, Wade said.

Alabama’s push to build regional support for ThyssenKrupp comes at the same time that Louisiana officials have been downplaying their chances to gain the plant. Louisiana has offered a 3,800-acre site on the Mississippi River near Convent in St. James Parish.

Regional partnerships like the one proposed for ThyssenKrupp “work best when they’re spread the most,” said Escambia County Commissioner David Stokes. “There’s a certain amount of trust that has to be involved because nobody wants to pay more than their fair share. But if we set it up right, there could be advantages for us well beyond ThyssenKrupp.”

Other area officials expressed support for the partnership, but said they’ll need more details about ThyssenKrupp’s potential economic impact.

“It’s obvious we’re going to benefit — the question is how much,” said Baldwin County Commissioner David Ed Bishop. “I’d like to get some of those answers in writing before we ask our taxpayers to support it.”

Sue Wright, executive director of the George County (Miss.) Economic Development Foundation, said she’s hoping to recruit potential ThyssenKrupp suppliers to a new, 1,200-acre industrial park in Lucedale.

ThyssenKrupp has estimated it will create 29,000 jobs during construction, plus another 38,000 to 52,000 spinoff jobs when the mill hits full production in 2010.

“It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” said Washington County Probate Judge Charles Singleton. “If we don’t do everything we can to take advantage of it now, we may never see anything like it again.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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