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Preparation was key to $2.5 billion project choosing Alabama

It pays to be prepared.

That’s the big takeaway from last week’s announcement that Novelis will build a $2.5 billion aluminum plant on the South Alabama Mega Site in Bay Minette.

“The announcement today with Novelis locating right here in Baldwin County at the Baldwin County Mega Site is proof positive that creating long-term planning and preparation produces great results,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield.

Lee Lawson, president and CEO of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, said others should point to this project to emphasize the importance of preparation.

“It is the demonstration of when preparedness meets opportunity,” Lawson said. “We’ve been preparing for over 10 years as a community with this site.”

Part of that preparation included working with Alabama Power and CSX Transportation to make improvements to the 3,000-acre property – grading 200 acres, creating a 1 million-square-foot building pad and adding a rail spur off the rail line that runs across the southern border of the site.

How Alabama Power helped Mega Site win $2.5 billion Novelis project from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

It’s a high-profile example of the kind of work Alabama Power does with economic development entities and communities throughout the state. Through its speculative building and site preparation programs, communities like Jasper and Sylacauga are among those that have benefited.

And while all communities won’t get a $2.5 billion project with 1,000 jobs, Novelis shows what’s possible.

“Site development, teamwork, collaboration is something that we constantly talk about as a priority in our service territory and our state,” said Leigh Davis, vice president of Economic and Community Development at Alabama Power. “This project is a best practice that we can talk about and share with other communities. We have all of those components in other parts of our region. It’s just a matter of what role we can play to bring teams and individuals and leaders together and make it happen.”

Tony Smoke, senior vice president of Marketing and Economic Development at Alabama Power, said the power company looks for opportunities to partner with communities.

The South Alabama Mega Site will be home to Novelis. (contributed)

“Ten years ago, somebody was visionary enough to spend the money and put the necessary resources in to make this project happen,” Smoke said. “Probably the biggest investment for this community ever has occurred because community leaders were visionary enough to put the money and resources to make this happen.”

Lawson said the work on the Mega Site sent a message to Novelis executives.

“To have a rail spur under construction ahead of time, to have a pad-ready site out there tremendously helped us show this site so much better and really helped Novelis believe, ‘Hey, we have to move fast, we know that they can move fast with us,’” Lawson said. “The fact that we can move as fast as this company needs to move – which is the fastest project I’ve ever seen in my 20 years in economic development – to be this size and this scope and to move as quickly as they wanted to move, we were able to kind of check that box and say ‘we can’ because of the preparedness that we’ve done.”

Tom Boney, president of Novelis North America, said being ready to move quickly was a top priority in choosing a site.

“Our customers really want our product very fast. In fact, you can argue that we will be late to market even with this very tight time schedule,” he said. “So, once you get the commitments from the customers together and they have a plan to sell more products and demand is high, you have to be ready to go. So, a key attribute for what we were looking to do was having a pad-ready location. This has that.”

Novelis plans to build a new low-carbon recycling and rolling plant with an initial capacity of 600 metric kilotons of finished aluminum goods per year. But the company is already eyeing growth on the site.

“Through this investment, we are making a demonstrative commitment to continue to grow alongside our customers and meet their needs for low-carbon, highly sustainable aluminum solutions,” said Steve Fisher, president and CEO of Novelis.

“In addition, we are well-positioned to efficiently expand capacity at this facility in the future – above the 600kt announced today – to capture ongoing strong demand. Our readiness to invest to serve growing markets is a perfect example of how we are delivering on our company purpose of shaping a sustainable world together,” he said.

Possibilities like that for the future is why Alabama Power works with communities today.

“We believe that anything that elevates the state is good for Alabama Power,” said Jeff Peoples, executive vice president of Customer and Employee Services at Alabama Power. “Now, not only from just a power perspective, but for workforce development, for the men and women who work here who will have good jobs.”

Economic development in Alabama is truly a team sport that takes place well before the ribbon-cuttings and project announcements.

“Nothing is done in a vacuum. Nothing is done with solitary work. It is a partnership,” Canfield said. “And to have as many of our stakeholders – whether it’s CSX, Alabama Power, whether it’s the local utilities here, the local leadership, mayors, county commissioners – all of them coming together with a streamlined, collaborative, aligned focus to attract great companies here to our state. It’s just another proof that teamwork creates results.”