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November 20, 2014

Anniston economic developer ready to realize city's potential

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Eric Basinger

Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 5:54 pm | Updated: 5:58 pm, Wed Aug 13, 2014.

Eric Basinger doesn't just talk about economic development.

He has helped make it happen.

Under his leadership as executive director of the Ozark-Dale County Economic Corporation, Basinger's community has seen growth in its manufacturing and commercial sectors in the last three years. Commercial Jet, which provides aircraft maintenance, announced last year it will open a $12 million facility in Dale County and create 500 jobs. Construction of several restaurants and retail outlets along Highway 231 through the county are underway.

Basinger plans to bring similar success to Anniston.

"In Anniston, I think there is a lot of success to be had there too," Basinger said.

Anniston recently hired Basinger, 38, as an in-house economic developer to attract retail stores and industrial firms to the city.

"We're not going to limit him on anything," said City Manager Brian Johnson. "The gloves are off and I don't care if it's industrial or retail ... we need all of it."

Basinger will start work Sept. 2. Johnson said Basinger's salary has not yet been set.

The city began searching for a full-time economic developer last year and sought out Basinger after he was recommended by others involved in the economic development industry, Johnson said.

"The bottom line is he was more highly regarded by those in the economic development area in the state than any of the other candidates that were thrown our way initially," Johnson said. "I chose him because of his analytical skills behind the scene, his competitiveness."

Mayor Vaughn Stewart said Basinger's hire will be a game-changer for the city.

"I feel strongly that in retrospect ... 10 or 15 years from now people will look back and see it as a milestone," Stewart said. "We think it's huge in the big scheme of things and it shows that this City Council is all about job growth."

Stewart said Basinger will bring plenty of experience to his new position.

"He's going to aggressively recruit industry instead of waiting for prospects to call," Stewart said.

Basinger, originally from Fultondale, holds a master's degree in public administration from Auburn University and has worked in the economic development business for 14 years. Basinger said he chose the Anniston job due to the city's potential for economic growth.

"The area's proximity to Atlanta and Birmingham — the auto market and the McClellan Development Authority —  there's a lot of resources available and that's what it's all about," Basinger said.

Basinger is not the first economic developer Anniston has had at its disposal. In 1989, the city's retail and commercial development board hired Tom Todt as a retail and commercial development director. Todt was tasked with recruiting retail and commercial enterprises and assisting existing businesses.

Todt, an Anniston native who lives in Lincoln and is now the director for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Alabama district office, said he worked six years for the city and had some success. Todt said he and his board helped establish the Berman Museum in Anniston.

"The idea was to create a draw to bring people into the city to spend money," Todt said.

Todt said he helped several Anniston retailers relocate to better positions in the city. He also managed a loan program to help finance new businesses or expand existing ones.

"We were moderately successful in what we did," Todt said.

Todt said the retail landscape has changed in the area over the years, specifically with Oxford becoming the retail hub of Calhoun County. However, Todt said, what hasn't changed is what partly pushed the city to seek an economic developer in 1989 — demographics.

Todt said the city is losing not only residents but residents with relatively high incomes — a problem when a city is trying to market itself to major retailers.

"They're looking for a certain amount of rooftops with a certain amount of income," Todt said.

Still, Todt is convinced Anniston has the potential to grow and that the city is on the right track to succeed.

"I commend the city for hiring an economic developer ... it's good to have someone in their corner," Todt said. "And they're doing a lot of the right things from a leadership standpoint, trying to build on the advantages they have."

Don Hopper, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, said he's known Basinger for years and was ready to work with him to bring more industry to the city.

"We'll work together fine ... he's one more opportunity to present the area to potential industry," Hopper said. "Professionally he's a good guy and I think he's a good fit for the city."

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