Industry leaders say negative perception stunting city growth

The EDC says Albany has a strong manufacturing-based workforce / Sarah Bleau

The confidence of industry in Albany began wavering after Cooper Tires announced it was closing the Albany facility in 2008.

Other local industry companies don't want the city to lose faith.

"There's going to be a resurgence in that creativity and drive for the American dream and for businesses to grow and I think our real niche and what we found and what we demonstrated that it's in that specialty, custom, manufacturing, high tech market," says Equinox Chemicals Co. CEO Mark Grimaldi.

Grimaldi established Equinox Chemicals Company in Albany in 2003.

"It started off as a much smaller scale operation just doing laboratory scale research projects and smaller scale projects," he says.

Today the Albany-based company has 80 employees in the United States and 253 overseas, making and distributing nearly 1,000 different products. Grimaldi says the company has its own plane at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport to help ship products in the U.S. and overseas.

Equinox also recently acquired companies in Missouri. Grimaldi's thought of moving the company closer to his northern hometown or even Missouri, but he says Albany makes more economic sense; he's said before logistics are 30 percent cheaper in Albany.

"It kind of surprised us too especially in Missouri because you think Missouri's centered in the middle of the country and it's going to be really cost effective to ship," says Grimaldi. "But when we actually compared shipping rates with all the major carriers it was actually significantly less to ship from Albany than Missouri."

Manufacturing is also the third largest employing industry in the city, according to the EDC's website, and a large provider of revenue for Albany.

"The leadership in all the different groups within the city and county know that too, I mean they know without industry there's no tax base and the city's not going to do well or the county's not going to do very well," says Grimaldi.

But after an exodus of many industries in the city, it has citizens concerned that Albany isn't attractive enough anymore for industry. The EDC says they're working on marketing the city's high points and image.

"Part of that is also trying to help improve our local product: Developing a new industrial park out on Highway 82, promoting our existing industrial park at Pecan Grove across from the airport," says Clem. "We have a great workforce that has a high level of skills that has a high level of skills because of our historical emphasis on manufacturing in this town."

Grimaldi says Albany's strengths are infrastructure and support from city leaders, but its biggest weakness is a lack of support from the community.

"It's human nature to focus on the negative side or the bad things about where you live and the grass is always greener on the other side and everybody always wants to leave Albany for a better place. I think most people realize when they get there it's just like any other place or town in the country; it's what you make of it," says Grimaldi.

Clem says, "Our biggest challenge in Albany is ourselves. Sometimes we have such a negative self image of who we are as a community that we lose sight of the fact that we do have competitive advantages over many other communities in the state of Georgia and around the country."

Recent U.S. Department of Labor job numbers show manufacturing accounted for 14 percent of job gains in a year. Local industry officials are positive Albany will notice the growth as well.

"Probably starting back in the fall of last year we started seeing an increase in prospect activity and our peers at the state level tell us that's a statewide trend as well. Companies are finally pushing past the recession and looking at opportunities to invest now. So that's a positive sign and hopefully Albany can get our fair share," says Clem.

According to the Albany Dougherty Economic Development Commission (EDC) website, there are 84 manufacturing businesses, big and small.