Travelers through Albertville may be hard pressed not to find some type of economic development happening around them. 

From a new grocery store, to new and relocated restaurants, to expansion at the city’s airport, growth and development is happening, said Albertville city leaders during the Albertville Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City event Tuesday. 

“What a year we have endured,” said Mayor Tracy Honea. “Approximately a year ago, how many of us were worried about finding toilet paper?

“Through all the hardships, our department heads have done a great job. I can’t say enough about their teamwork.”

The event, held at the newly opened Sand Mountain Park and Amphitheater, played host to many city leaders, business owners and managers, and the public looking to hear about how the city has weathered 2020 and COVID-19.

Economic Development Director Mike Price said COVID-19 slowed some development in town, but didn’t derail any plans completely.

“We are fortunate that nothing we were working on during COVID fell by the wayside,” Price said. “It created obstacles and slowdowns, but we are looking good and moving forward.” 

New to the city

Price listed some of the new stores opening this year.

• Food City will be opening mid-April in the Albertville Marketplace, located on the site of the former K-mart. 

• Ulta Beauty, also located in the Albertville Marketplace, will open mid-April. Ulta is one of the most-requested store for recruitment, Price said. 

• Located at U.S. 431 and Rose Road, Spurlin Pointe shopping center’s Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins has opened, posting record first-week earnings. Also in the center will be Firehouse Subs and Venture Out Supply opening yet this spring. A parcel next to the current buildings is under construction, but no tenants have been announced. 

• Dollar Tree is coming to a parcel located next to Jack’s restaurant on U.S. 431. Two other spaces are available, but tenants have not been announced.

• The Fairfield Inn and Suites has begun construction on U.S. 431.

• A Hampton Inn, located on Alabama 75, will break ground April 8. A Buffalo Wild Wings location is also slated for the site.

• Papa Dubis will host a ground-breaking ceremony later this spring for a new, one-of-a-kind restaurant concept on U.S. 431. A Beef O’Brady’s is also planned for the same parcel.

• The former Shoney’s restaurant on U.S. 431 will be razed to make way for a new restaurant, Price said. However, a timeline for the new occupants has not been announced. 

• Rural King will be built on a site across U.S. 431 from Howard Bentley GMC. Groundbreaking is expected by midyear.

“Going forward, we continue to talk to developers,” Price said. “Things are getting back to normal. I think in the next six to 12 months we will have lots of similar announcements. There is lots of good momentum.” 

Airport rebound

Albertville Regional Airport Director Jerry Cofield said few other industries were as hard hit by Covid-19 than aviation and travel. 

Traffic and fuel sales dropped by 70 % when Governor Kay Ivey issued the Stay at Home order. 

“Prior to Covid, on any given day between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. there were 5,000 planes full of people in the skies in the United States,” Cofield said. “When the government said we needed to stay home and stay away from other people, airline use dropped 70%. 

“Luckily for us, the majority of our traffic is corporate traffic and business related.”

Cofield said the airport is planning a hangar expansion to provide indoor storage for up to 57 aircraft. 

Cofield said BAE Systems has recently revived operations. 

“A couple of weeks ago we were invited to view a special project they have,” he said. “Inside a hangar is a 55-foot-long aircraft … actually a drone prototype. 

“It is very high tech. It weighs 331 pounds, it’s entire wing is a photo cell and it is capable to fly 60,000 to 70,000 feet in the air, while carrying a payload. It can stay up there for a year, providing service to the ground.”

Cofield said the potential applications for the drone are nearly limitless, and may include providing surveillance for the military to providing rural areas with internet service. 

He also urged anyone looking for a new career to check out the Aviation College at the airport. “It might change their lives,” he said. “They don’t offer a degree program, but they do offer a two-year program that can get you in the door.”

Cofield said airport officials are once again looking at a plan to relocate Alabama 75 to allow for more expansion of the airport. 

“About 10 years ago this project started and five years ago it was stopped due to funding,” Cofield said. “There is new funding now available. Right now we have half an airport. If we more 75, we can develop and continue to be an economic engine, providing new growth and bringing more and more corporate aircraft into the city along with creating many new jobs.” 

Recycling Center

Jeannie Courington, director of the Albertville-Boaz Recycling Center, said the city is in the midst of changing to weekly curbside pickup. 

While Covid-19 may have wreaked havoc for some businesses, Courington said she and her staff took advantage of the downtime to spruce up the center. 

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Courington said. “We tried to update the look of the facility. We shut down the facility and put up a fence. People were coming at night and dropping off yard sale leftovers and trash. 

“Putting up the fence allowed us to clean up and start our daily work each day rather than spend hours taking stuff to the landfill.”

Courington said the center has grown since its humble beginnings in 2009. 

“At that time we were run by volunteers only,” she said. “In 2010, we baled 80 tons of material. Currently, we vale 3,400 tons of material. These are things we are not paying to go to a landfill.”

She cited one example of Styrofoam which the center baled and put on a ship to Malaysia. There it was turned into picture frame moldings for items sold at Walmart and Kirkland’s stores. 

“It is exciting to know it is coming back to us as something useable,” Courington said. 

The center employs 13 employees, two of which are assigned to the Secure Shred document destruction trucks. 

“I am very proud of our center and I hope you are too,” she said.  

‘Growing like crazy’

Albertville Chamber of Commerce President Stan Witherow said the Chamber’s mission statement is “to build commerce and community.”

“Everyone who has spoken today has supported that,” Witherow said. “It is great to be a support to our community, businesses and industry.

“Our city is growing like crazy.”

During the past year, Covid-19 has factored into many decisions, Mayor Tracy Honea said. However, he is proud to say Albertville has come out of the pandemic stronger than ever.

“Our industry base really stepped up,” Honea said. “Our groceries kept the shelves stocked and doors open, school officials weathered the storm, our first responders and healthcare workers have all done a phenomenal job. Our industries stepped up too. 

“Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, you never know. Let’s pray for more patience and understanding of what others are going through.”

He urged all area residents to pray for those who lost loved ones during the pandemic and to give thanks to those who stepped up to serve in various indispensable roles.

“We have all had challenges we never faced before,” Honea said. “A lot of people and businesses struggled, but some saw increases in business. It is a testament to the people in our community. 

“I can’t say enough about our city and the great people here. It is great to be in Albertville!”

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