Rain doesn’t dampen spirit

Published 10:21 pm Thursday, July 30, 2009

As a crowd gathered under a tent at the South Dallas Industrial Park Thursday, it appeared that the weather would hold off long enough for groundbreaking festivities for Castle Rock Industries’ biodiesel plant to conclude.

But, the crowd quickly discovered that Mother Nature can be deceiving.

The skies opened up, the audience huddled under umbrellas and despite the aid of a microphone, speakers had to shout to be heard above the din. No ground was broken, but that did not dampen the Dallas County’s latest bit of positive economic news.

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“I’m not worried about the rain because rain makes green things grow, and these are green jobs,” said Sen. Hank Sanders. “These have been dark economic times, but this is a beacon of light. And it’s just so important to come at this moment.”

Holland Powell played a role in getting the ball rolling for the plant. He is friends with the principals of Castle Rock, and suggested they consider building their plant in Selma. Castle Rock considered Demopolis and Greenville, but settled on Selma in the end.

“They didn’t step up and perform. The people in Selma stepped up,” said Powell. “They’re gentlemen, their sportsmen, they’re from Alabama and they will be great neighbors here in Selma.”

Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority, said Powell’s initiative should be an example to others in the area.

“Sometimes people complain that nothing’s happening,” said Vardaman. “Once we get a prospect, we can do what it takes to get them here. I think this shows you what a local citizen can do when they want to help the community. Get out there and try to help your folks get some industry in here.”

Powell’s efforts alone did not seal the deal, but they did bring Dallas County into the mix. Castle Rock Chief Financial Officer Rod Albrester was enthusiastic about what Dallas County offers.

“With the size of what we want to get to, this certainly has the potential to be a southeastern hub [for green energy],” he said. “It’s close to major interstates, good highways, good rail. The infrastructure here is exactly what we need it.”

The project is scheduled to be completed in five phases with a total capital investment of $120 million resulting in 130 news jobs. Phase 1 is under construction, and Phase 2 may be close behind.

“In this economy, both nationally and in the state, how bad everything is, it gives people hope there’s a possibility for more jobs,” said Vardaman. “On the heels of [Home Casual’s purchase of Meadowcraft and some other things we’ve got going on, I feel like we’ve turned a corner. It’s just nice to be able to see things come to fruition.”

Like Vardaman, several in attendance hope the good news of Meadowcraft and Castle Rock will send a message to other industries.

“It lets them know that we have an excellent workforce,” said Probate Judge Kim Ballard. “I think this is just a message to other industries that Dallas County and Selma, Ala., is wide-open for business.”