‘Now the work really begins’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 9, 2005

We may never know the backroom negotiations, the long hours and the ins-and-outs of what it took to get Lockheed Martin to tie a multi-million dollar plan to Selma and Dallas County.

But the message from everyone who worked on the project is clear: Be proud of where we are, keep working hard and pray.

“Lockheed has chosen us, but the Air Force still has to choose Lockheed,” President of the Centre for Commerce Wayne Vardaman said. “This deal is more complex than any deal I’ve worked on. It’s complex in that it involves a multi-contract type proposal. There is a tremendous amount of detail.”

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“This has been one of the most involved project in my time as Probate Judge,” Team Selma member Johnny Jones said. “Initially there were several communities competing for just the Lockheed Martin part of this. Just the sheer work has been quite interesting. There has been so much involved and so many meetings involved. Lockheed chose us and for that we are grateful. Now the work really begins.”

Vardaman put Team Selma together for just this type of endeavor.

Filled with local business leaders and politicians, Team Selma works together to attract business and industry to the area.

“The big deal is this demonstrates that the political leaders are working together in an effort to attract and retain our business base for the betterment of the entire community,” he said. “This team has put all the things in place to win projects like this. We’re playing in the big leagues now.”John Pilcher, Team Selma member and Chairman of the Craig Field Airport board said that Selma and Dallas County are attracting companies like Lockheed Martin, Renosol and Lear proves that they are working together.

“It’s very much of a community effort,” he said.

And it’s taken a lot of community effort to get to this point.

“It’s probably the most extensive and busiest project that I’ve worked on since I’ve been in this job,” said Menzo Driskell, Team Member and executive director of Craig Field Airport and Industrial Authority. “There are so many aspects of this you don’t deal with in private industry.”

“This was a massive undertaking because so much work had to be done. There were roles for everybody to play, like a puzzle all of the pieces had to be there,” State Senator and Team Selma member Hank Sander said. “My role was to interact as much on the state level and try to help make funding come together. You had each Team Selma member playing a critical role.”

But Sanders said, it wasn’t just Team Selma doing the work.

“You had a lot of folks, the Governor and the Alabama Development Office (ADO) played a very important role,” Sanders said. “No one person can do much. It takes that team effort. I think the fact that all of us could work together so harmoniously made the difference in getting Lockheed.”

Pilcher agreed, “Our community leaders in particular Wayne Vardaman of the EDA and Menzo Driskell have spent countless hours working with Lockheed officials on this project,” he said. “In addition the mayor (James Perkins Jr.,) and the Probate Judge have provided their full support, cooperation hard work and advice. Senator Sanders has provided exceptional leadership in working with the ADO and the governor’s office. Truly the announcement is reflective of a community that is working together for the benefit of the entire community.”

Perkins said the project was evidence of Selma’s progress.

“We are fortunate to have Lockheed Martin as our community partner.

They are a very large and a very experienced Department of Defense contractor,” he said.

“With our commitment and Lockheed Martin’s experience, we are competitive.

Though the final decision has not been made, I am cautiously optimistic.”

Vardaman took time to thank some of the folks from outside of Selma that helped as well.

“The state, the governor’s staff have been involved assisting us with this project,” Vardaman said, “Neal Wade, ADO director, Anita Archie ADO assistant director and project manager Dave Eckles who has spent a tremendous amount of time on this project. Also Alabama Power’s Ken Novak.”

That work is far from done. Over the next several months, the members of the team will do all that they can to ensure that Lockheed wins the contract.

“It means we’re going to have to go into high gear,” Driskell said. “We’re very optimistic and hopeful. We’ve been working with them so long and so close we just feel really good about it.

All the people on Team Selma that have been working with these guys feel like we haven’t left any stone unturned. They’ve got confidence in us and we’ve got confidence in them. It’s going to be huge for Selma and Dallas County.”

Military officials will be in town to evaluate the site as well as the area.

Jones said that other industrial leaders have come to Selma and stopped in restaurants and gas stations to ask people their opinion of Selma.

“As part of the proposal evaluators from the Air Force will visit the locations selected by all competitors,” a Lockheed Martin release stated. “The result of these site visit evaluations will be incorporated into their proposal evaluation.

The Air Force will use a common set of criteria to evaluate a proposed training facility.”

“This community has got to help us with this,” Jones said. “They can play a bigger part than they realize. The next several months are going to be the hardest.”

Vardaman asked the community for their trust and maybe a little help from above.

“The community has got to trust us to know we’re doing everything we possibly can. The pressure’s on and I think we handle pressure pretty well,” he said. “I pray on it every day and I think people in this city need to pray.”

Even with the power of prayer, waiting for an April announcement means the next few months will be tense for the area and its leaders.

“It certainly is going to be filled with anxious anticipation,” Sanders said. “This is a baby being born, an economic renaissance. It’s a new birth that we’re all waiting for and we’re trying to do every thing we can to help with the delivery.”