Jasper may adopt the mantra from the movie “Field of Dreams” as the city’s official slogan.
“If you build it, they will come,” has already proved true in using speculative buildings and sites to lure industrial prospects.
On Dec. 1, Jasper opened its fifth speculative building, with a number of companies already looking at the property.
The $1.9 million, 53,000-square-foot building at 4080 Whitehouse Road marks the fourth time Jasper has used the Alabama Power spec building program.
The most recent success came with a 50-acre site a quarter of a mile away from the newest spec building in the Jasper Industrial Park. That site is now where Yorozu, an automotive supplier, is building a $100 million plant and creating 300 jobs.
“When you have a facility like this, it just creates opportunities,” Walker County Development Authority Director David Knight said during an open house at the new building. “We actually started seeing projects want to come in and look at this facility before we had steel going vertical. We’ve seen a lot of projects recently. And, of course, with the opening now, or the actual completion of I-22, we anticipate that trend to continue.”
The Yorozu project and the completion of Interstate 22 to Birmingham create a lot of buzz for Jasper.
“As you look along I-22, if I could pick out where I wanted Jasper to be it would be right where it’s at today,” Jasper Mayor David O’Mary said. “I don’t think we could ask for better.”
Patrick Murphy, vice president of Economic and Community Development at Alabama Power, said Jasper is enjoying success by being proactive and developing industrial parks and buildings.
“Success is proven by the jobs and capital investment they’ve brought to the community,” he said. “We talk about economic development as recruiting and marketing, and certainly that’s important, but if you don’t have product, if you don’t have a place for these companies to go for industrial prospects, it’s really kind of a moot point. Ultimately real estate is going to drive the local decision long term, so it’s important to have the right product out there that’s attractive to companies.”
Murphy said a spec building can be used as a marketing tool to bring prospects to a community even if the business doesn’t end up choosing the spec building. Knight said that has already been the case in Jasper.
“We’ve had at least two companies that came in to look at spec buildings in the past, and maybe the building wasn’t exactly what they needed, and they ended up buying property and locating on another site.”
For Jasper, bringing in new industry is crucial.
“Our community has relied on the coal industry for years and years and years. It’s been very good to this community,” O’Mary said. “But the coal industry is going away and we’re in a position now that we have to reinvent ourself. This building will allow us to bring jobs, bring diversification to what’s happening here in our industrial park.”
With the Yorozu plant nearing completion, the proximity of the latest spec building would be ideal for a Yorozu supplier, Knight said. But any number of other types of companies could make use of the building, he said.
The site is ready for the building to expand to up to twice its current size. The concrete floor has not been installed, which allows a prospective company to dictate the thickness of the concrete.
Having the building frame ready makes it easier to land a company with a quick trigger.
“It eliminates a lot of the construction time,” Knight said. “It can cut the construction timeline by six to nine months, and a lot of these projects when they come in are on a real short deadline. The flexibility that a facility like this provides is just tremendous. You can lay it out however you want to.”
The interest in the building makes it likely it won’t stay empty long.
“There’s been some really good activity here and I fully expect this one to be filled very, very soon like the previous ones have been,” Murphy said.
O’Mary is confident that since the city built it, “they will come.”
“It’s my hope, that in the not-to-distant future, that maybe we’re preparing another site for a speculative building,” he said.