What once was a sleepy southwestern Alabama town - unincorporated and with no real city services - is now home to the biggest privately built industrial project in America in decades.
When Thyssenkrupp and the state break ground in Calvert, Alabama on Friday it will signal the beginning of three years of furious construction, and change thousands of lives in the process. WSFA 12 News broke the story of Thyssenkrupp choosing Alabama for this plant back last May. Now, WSFA 12 News reporter Chris Holmes brings us a special report on what's happened since then - and why the state has a lot more to do before the real construction begins.
The little town of Calvert might welcome ThyssenKrupp, but the company isn't returning the favor before groundbreaking. Despite repeated requests to see the site, the company never allowed WSFA 12 News past the gate to the 3.7 billion dollar factory.
Mike Barnett and his son are knee deep in lumber, renovating the Bee Hive Diner, part of their family for nearly 50 years. Barnett tells WSFA 12 News, "They started a hardware store across the street in 1949 and built this restaurant in 1959." Now, the family hopes to cash in on the construction boom. The state says between now and 2010, 27-thousand workers will pass through Calvert. Barnett says, "It is going to be a dramatic, drastic change for the citizens of this area."
Likewise, landowners are hoping their once devalued lots on Highway 43. Probably this time last year, an acre of land in Mount Vernon would have been about ten thousand dollars. For sale signs dot both commercial and residential lots, all of them priced a lot higher than ever. Sandy Frost is a real estate broker. She says, "Now it is about one hundred thousand dollars. That's ten times! ten times. "
There are a couple of roadblocks. The latest numbers show Washington County is home to about 18-thousand people. If just half of ThyssenKrupp's workers stay here during construction, a big problem looms. Linda Swann is with the Alabama Development Office. She says, "If there is infrastructure to support it. But right now, there's no sewer." So how do you bring in even trailers? Add in follow on businesses like rental housing, hotels, convenience stores and fast food places, and it's clear the state has a huge headache on its hands. Swann says "There may be some water issues, too."
So what comes first, housing or the sewage? Mike Barnett is a former state trooper and local police chief. He says while ThyssenKrupp's arrival is mainly good news, no one can really say how the small town will handle an invasion of this size and scope.
Mike Barnett is one of several people in Washington County who readily admit they need help trying to wrap their heads around what's about to happen. So, he along with several other local officials, are headed to Lincoln another small town hit with a huge industrial expansion. They plan to mimic what Lincoln did when the car industry came in. But they also know that no matter how much they do, ThyssenKrupp is much, much larger.
State development officials are suggesting one solution to the infrastructure problem. They are considering putting all the small localities like Satsuma, Creola, Mt. Vernon and Calvert into one water-sewer district, which might give them a leg up in getting federal funding. They also say the Governor and the Legislature must look at some solutions as soon as January.
WSFA 12 News will be at Friday's groundbreaking in Calvert.