By Alton Mitchell
The east Alabama and West Georgia region of Interstate 85 are a very closely-knit community. When a major event happens in one county it can often have ripples in neighboring counties. This was seen when the Kia Plant announced it would be opening in nearby West Point. It had a ripple effect in Chambers County as several high-end suppliers located to Chambers County. A project in nearby Macon County may soon have the same impact in Chambers County as a $300 million investment may be months away from an announcement.
On Monday evening, Kim Davis, a Public Relations Specialist with Macon County Economic Development made the trip to LaFayette to address the Chambers County Commission on the impacts the project could have on Chambers County. According to Davis Italian-based Leonardo has expressed interest in building a training facility at Moulton Field in Tuskegee. The same field where the Tuskegee Airmen trained during World War II.
If the United States Air Force awards Leonardo the contract to train its F-35 pilots at the new Tuskegee facility it would have significant impacts on the entire Interstate 85 corridor. The facility will be used to build the T-100 trainer jet at the facility. The initial investment which Davis says will be around $300 million will create 750 new jobs in Tuskegee and Macon County.
However, there will be ripple effect the plant will create in neighboring communities with suppliers. Much like the Kia Plant near West Point brought international suppliers to neighboring communities such as Chambers County. According to Davis there will be an additional 3,000-4,000 jobs created initially at supplier facilities built around the region. That number can grow even more as the company plans to build 350 units initially at the facility, but Davis says it is a possibility that number could grow to nearly 1,000 units.
The training units are said to carry an estimated manufacturing cost of $25 million per unit. The plant will carry an impact of more than $303 million annually for Macon County, one of Alabama’s poorer counties. The average income in Macon County is about $4,000 below the states average.
Macon County officials along with a list of growing county governments across Alabama including Chambers are now awaiting a decision to see if the United States Air Force will award the contract to Leonardo. That decision is expected to be announced by the first part of July. On Monday, the Chambers County Commission voted unanimously to partner with Macon County to show interest in bringing Leonardo to Alabama.