It was another strong year for economic development in Chambers County according to the Chambers County Development Authority’s Year in Review report released last week. The report notes that new and existing industries made $91.796 million in capital investments and 543 new jobs were created in 2014.
There were five industry expansions last year and two new projects announced and the most recent unemployment rate reported for Chambers County was 5.8 percent, the lowest it’s been in seven years.
Currently the CCDA is working 26 active projects, including 17 industrial, five retail and four commercial.
“The CCDA’s willingness to work with industry has allowed us continued success in bringing jobs to Chambers County,” Kimberly Carter, Family Support Coordinator and Business retention Specialist at the CCDA said. “With many existing industries visits and prospect visits, our office was able to bring in millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to this community this past year. By making sure we keep the lines of communication open, we continues to show us success.”
The first expansion of the year came in February, when Leehan America, located in the Chambers County Industrial Park, announced a $2 million expansion that created 17 jobs.
The first company to locate in the Chambers County Industrial Park, Great Lakes Metal Stamping, announced an expansion in April. The expansion will create two additional jobs and include a $1.5 million capital investment.
The county landed a new industry later in April when Hantal Alabama, Inc announced plans to locate in the Chambers County Industrial Park. The company, which specializes in E-coating, packaging and automotive parts, is making a $20 million capital investment and creating 200 jobs initially.
Another new project came to light in June, when KMIN, USA announced a $20 million investment to locate their stamping and welding operation at the Fairfax Complex in Valley. The company is bringing 200 new jobs.
An expansion and relocation was announced in May, with C&C Fabrication moving to the former Baldwin Facility in Huguley and investing $1.906 million in an expansion. The company will create six new jobs.
Meadwestvaco (MWV) announced a major expansion in June. The company, which is located in the Huguley Industrial Park, will invest $16.39 million and create 18 jobs.
Each year more than 7 million elementary and middle school students across the United States participate in the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope For Heart campaign. This year, for the first time, students at Eastside Elementary were a part of that statistic.
Dozens of students from Eastside, under the supervision of physical education teacher Amanda Brown, took part in the fundraising program that encourages students to improve their health and help other kids with heart-healthy issues. By participating, students are given the opportunity to contribute to the fight against heart disease and stroke by raising money for research and education.
Eastside students have just recently completed their program and raised $739.20, nearly tripling their stated goal of $250.
In participating in Jump Rope For Heart, Eastside students and teachers received donations for the American Heart Association by jumping rope. Some donations were achieved on behalf of students that were personally affected by heart disorders. One student, Makenzie Finley, raised $100 in honor of her brother Cayden, who has severe heart problems. Finley wasn’t the only student personally affected; several teachers and students raised funds in honor of another student who was born with a hole in her heart. Another student, who participated in the program, actually recently underwent open-heart surgery.
Michael and Charline Hand have sold The LaFayette Sun to Michael and Teresa Wilcox. The Wilcox’s own weekly newspapers in Michigan, and are planning to move to Chambers County soon.
Mike Wilcox, who has owned a couple dozen newspapers in his professional career, said, “We couldn’t have asked for a better situation. The LaFayette Sun, its rich history, and loyal employees who strive every day to produce a superior product, is a credit to the newspaper industry. For us to step in and continue this rich tradition is a dream come true.”
In August 1881, the first edition of The LaFayette Sun was published in LaFayette, the county seat of Chambers County, Alabama.
In 1939, H.H. Golson purchased the paper and in 1940 he hired Bonnie D. Hand as managing editor and his wife Pearl H. Hand was listed as assistant publisher. The Hands bought The Sun in 1944. Bonnie Hand died in 1967 at the age of 54 and his wife Pearl Hughes Hand became publisher. The Sun was owned by the Hand family for 74 years.
Bonnie Hand was active in the Alabama Press Association, serving as its president in 1946 and serving as chairman of the legislative committee from 1950 until his death. He was inducted into the Alabama Newspaper Hall of Honor in 1972. The Sun is the only newspaper in the state with three publishers enshrined in the Hall.
Pearl Hughes Hand passed away in late 1989 and her son, Michael, became publisher and held the position until December 2014.
Michael Hand said that he was “blessed to be able to leave The Sun in the hands of a very capable community newspaper owner.”
The LaFayette City Council address an issue concerning dog impound fees at their first meeting of December held Monday evening in City Hall. They also received an update on repairs made on the city’s Substation No. 1 and were informed of a training program being initiated by the police department.
Resident Chuck Blanton appeared before the council to request a reduction in fines after several of his family’s puppies were impounded. Blanton explained that his granddaughter had adopted a pregnant stray dog recently, and were intending to find good homes for each puppy when born. After their birth, Blanton was in the process of constructing a fence for the puppies, when they wandered out of his yard. A neighbor subsequently called animal control and the mother, along with eight puppies, was impounded.
When Blanton inquired about getting the dogs back, he was informed of a $50 fee by the city for each dog. City Attorney noted that there is also a $45 fee for each impounded dog from the Humane Society, bringing the amount required to release the animals to $855. Read the rest of this entry »
The most successful coach in the history of LaFayette High School athletics received another honor to add to his impressive career Wednesday night. The school and Chambers County Board of Education celebrated coach John T. Woody by naming the court of the Dog Palace after the legendary basketball coach in a special ceremony prior to the Bulldogs’ season opening game against Smiths Station.
School officials, former players and members of the Woody family were on hand to take part in the event for the coach that brought three basketball state championships to the storied program.
Woody’s career with LaFayette included two state championships as head coach (1989, 2002), and one as an assistant (1986). He earned 435 victories as the varsity head coach, winning 65 percent of his games. Woody’s varsity teams made the playoffs an amazing 22 times in his 24 seasons and won 14 area titles. He was twice named Class 3A Coach of the Year and was named State Coach of the Year in 2002. Prior to taking over the varsity program in 1987, Woody led the b-team to an amazing 147-25 record in nine seasons, including a 53 game win streak.
Current LaFayette High boys coach Obadiah Threadgill, who took over the program after Woody’s retirement in 2011, spoke first and expressed his appreciation to the coach for the foundation he laid. “It’s an honor to be here to share this with the Woody family and the LaFayette High staff,” Threadgill said.
Chambers County Superintendent Kelli Hodge praised Woody’s career, not just as a coach, but also as an educator, mentor and community leader.
“Naming the court after someone is something the board does not take lightly,” Dr. Hodge said. “Coach Woody has gone above and beyond the call of duty in 33 years as a teacher and coach. He proved that hard work pays off and he showed the students what it looks like to be a successful adult.”
Dr. Hodge also noted that Woody continues to impact the lives of area youth by volunteering his time each summer to oversee the City of LaFayette summer basketball programs.
Former LHS standout and current Meridian Community College head basketball coach Cedric Drake spoke about the influence Woody had on him and his fellow athletes. “He taught us to be disciplined, to be accountable and to hold each other accountable,” Drake said. “No one is more worthy of this honor because of what he meant to this team, school and community.”
The always-reserved Woody stood with a big smile on his face when he was shown the court for the first time that now bears his name. “I love it,” he quietly said.
Woody began by thanking the board, LHS principal Don Turner, his family and the Bulldog fans. “Any time you do anything like this (coaching), you have to have the support of the community and people have to trust you to handle their kids,” he said. “And I appreciate you all allowing me the privilege to do this for so long. My greatest joy was seeing these players accomplish so much.
“This means a whole lot to me, and I really can’t express how much right now.”
Fittingly the night ended with the Bulldogs defeating 7A power Smiths Station in the first ever game on John T. Woody Court.
Action was taken on three ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program) projects by the Chambers County Commission in their meeting Monday night, bringing the county closer to completing the state funded program.
The commission awarded contracts on two bridge projects and executed an agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation on a paving project.
These are final county projects under the ATRIP umbrella. In total, the county received nearly $12 million in funding for 16 road and bridge projects through three phases of the state funded road construction program.
The bridge projects cover Whatley Creek and Chikasonoxee Creek, both located on County Road 258. The Whatley Creek bridge project is .21 miles long and will cost a total of $531,630. The county’s 20 percent match totals $102,726.
The Chikasonoxee Creek project is .3 miles long and will cost $781,080. The county’s match is $156,214.
The final project, the resurfacing and striping of County Road 62 (Marcoot Road) will be let to bid on Friday. The project covers 6.621 miles between County Road 54 and State Route 77. It has an estimated cost of $1.37 million, with the county’s match coming to approximately $274,000.
There was much praise for the program at the meeting. Commission Chair David Eastridge said it had served the county well, and commended the commission for taking advantage of the program by borrowing $3 million to fund the county’s required match.
County Attorney Skip McCoy noted that in addition to the county, several municipalities have benefited under the program through partnerships with the county.
County Engineer Josh Harvill had previously said that through the ATRIP program, Chambers County has received as much funding as it would normally receive from the state over a 20-year period.
Chambers County’s economy reached a major milestone in October according to unemployment reports released by the state Department of Labor last week. The statistics show that the county has achieved its lowest unemployment rate in seven years.
Chambers County’s October unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, the lowest since September of 2007 when it was 5.5 percent.
“We can credit this lower rate to the hard work of many local people and our state partners,” Chambers County Development Authority Executive Director Valerie Gray said. “With recent announcements of Knauf, Norbord, Hantal, KMIN and expansions of local businesses, we anticipate a brighter future for Chambers County.
“Our leaders in LaFayette, Lanett, Valley, Chambers County and our towns all support us at the CCDA and enable us to do our jobs. Our primary goal at the CCDA is to create job opportunities and build wealth within the community.”
The October rate is down from September’s rate of 6.2 percent and from the October 2013 rate of 6.7 percent. Last month’s figure represents 854 unemployed individuals and 13,804 employed. Another promising statistic about the new figures was that the county’s civilian workforce increased from 14,588 to 14,658 from September to October.
In September of this year, Chambers County had 909 unemployed and 13,679 employed, and had 983 unemployed and 13,679 in October of 2013.
“It has not been an easy path for us to follow, but finally we are beginning to see the benefits of our cooperative teamwork,” Gray added. “The CCDA remains committed to its diversification plan and committed to supporting it’s existing businesses.”
Chambers County’s rate was once again favorable compared to surrounding counties. The county ranked 44th in unemployment out of Alabama’s 67 counties, which is above the 2013 average ranking of 32nd.
Lee County was the only neighboring county with a lower rate than Chambers, with a rate of 4.6 percent, ranking 66th in the state. Randolph County posted a 6.3 percent unemployment rate, ranking 36th in the state. Clay County ranked 28th with a 6.6 percent rate; Tallapoosa County was at 6.8 percent, ranking 22nd, Russell County was at 7.3 percent, ranking 17th, and Macon County ranked 14th with a 7.6 percent rate.