Economic development in southwest Alabama got a boost as almost $5 million in Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants were parceled out to two projects.

Matt Erskine, deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and chief operating officer of the EDA, announced Sept. 2 that $2.9 million will go to a business and technology incubator in Mobile and $1.9 million will go to build an access road to a new aerospace manufacturing facility in Atmore.

“I challenge you to make these EDA-funded projects such a success that in the months and years ahead that we can point to them as shining examples, shining models for communities not only across the country but across the world, the kind of examples they can look to to say, here’s how we grow manufacturing,” Erskine said in a news conference at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mobile gets grants for Innovation PortAL from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The $2.9 million grant will go to the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation to renovate the former Threaded Fastener Building on St. Louis Street in downtown Mobile. It will house Innovation PortAL. The incubator will support economic diversification and provide mentoring services, investment capital and investing networks to support budding entrepreneurs.

A $1.9 million match for the project will come from local private foundations, private industry, the city of Mobile, Mobile County and the University of South Alabama. Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the EDA grants give Mobile a reason to celebrate.

“There’s a lot of momentum in our community right now and in this region,” Stimpson said. “You have just given us a springboard to make sure that we keep that momentum going. It gives us an opportunity to reach out to our young entrepreneurs.”

The industrial access road will serve the new aerospace facility built in the Rivercane Industrial Park in Atmore by Huntsville-based Brown Precision Inc. The city of Atmore will match the $1.9 million EDA grant with $580,000. The facility is expected to create 116 jobs and $114 million in private investment.

“It will help our community to develop into what it’s going to be,” said Atmore Mayor Jim Staff. “We’ve got so much coming.”

Matt Erskine, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and chief operating officer of the Economic Development Administration, talks with Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Sisson and Communication Director Susan Rak-Blanchard before making the grant announcements. (Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)

“We know that these key projects will continue to help transform this region’s economy,” Erskine said.

“The future of American manufacturing relies on staying on the cutting edge,” he said. “This is where the Department of Commerce can be of help.”

Erskine noted that the EDA grants are not “free.” In addition to providing a match for the grants, local communities had to compete against other communities. Critical in helping to win these grants is the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, or IMCP designation, he said. The eight-county Advancing Southwest Alabama organization received one of the first 12 IMCP designations in the country.

“For U.S. manufacturers to lead in the 21st century, we have to equip the entrepreneurs and the startups, those growing businesses and the workers with the technologies and the skills they need to innovate,” Erskine said. “Through the collaborative spirit here and with our support, the future of manufacturing in the southwest Alabama region is bright.”

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, left, chats with Matt Erskine, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and chief operating officer of the Economic Development Administration, as Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Sisson speaks.(Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)

Chamber President and CEO Bill Sisson credited County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood with heading the effort to obtain the IMCP designation.

“When it came across my desk, I said, ‘This looks like us,’” Ludgood said. “This is what we do informally.”

The administration is placing emphasis on manufacturing growth, Erskine said. However, technology is constantly changing.

“The manufacturing jobs of the future already don’t look like the jobs of the past,” he said.

Maintaining that growth will require continually adapting to a changing environment, he said. That is why projects like Innovation PortAL are important.

“We appreciate your partnership and your faith in this community,” Sisson said. “It really will propel our effort in entrepreneurship and economic development through manufacturing and propel it quickly.”

Hayley Van Antwerp, executive director for Innovation PortAL, said the project is expected to generate 500 local jobs and serve about 300 entrepreneurs during its first five years. Their companies are expected to contribute about $5 million to the local economy.