This week’s big announcement at McClellan wasn’t necessarily a big announcement. A vital business bought property it already had been leasing, and it paid a handsome fee to do so.
Great news for McClellan, for Anniston, for all of Calhoun County. And, of course, for the Center for Domestic Preparedness, one of northeast Alabama’s most unique employers.
But the CDP’s acquisition of 52 acres and 16 existing buildings at McClellan doesn’t automatically fulfill one of the main goals of the redevelopment of this former Army post: jobs.
We’re not trying to be naysayers. Listen to Phil Webb, chairman of the McClellan Development Authority.
“Our job now is to sit down as a board and figure out how we’re going to bring more jobs here,” Webb said Wednesday. “We have got to find the best use for this money.”
That money, by the way, is $3.5 million. If you know anything about MDA finances, that’s huge. It’s the quintessential definition of a windfall.
In this case, Webb is spot-on correct. If you subscribe to the theory that McClellan’s immediate future is tied to two areas — residence and job-creation — then it’s time to get busy. Residence is moving along nicely; the coming expansion of the property’s assisted-living options will significantly increase the number of people who live there.
And jobs? There, progress exists, and it should be noticed. The MDA says more than 3,000 people work at the former post, and more are coming as employers such as the CDP and International Auto Components complete their expansion projects. (On a side note, imagine what those numbers would be if McClellan’s first post-Army years had not been fraught with such disappointing leadership and legal wrangling.)
Webb’s call is one we welcome. Since the Army deserted McClellan in 1999, this editorial board has seen McClellan as an economic engine for all of northeast Alabama. We knew the climb would be arduous, but we still believe the payoff — a fully redeveloped prosperous McClellan — will be life-changing for Calhoun County. Nothing has changed that opinion.
With ordnance cleanup less a detriment than in past years, and with competent pilots at the MDA, there’s simply no reason why the baby steps of the past shouldn’t give way to giant leaps this community deserves. Money remains tight, yes; Alabama’s economy hasn’t rebounded as well as most other states’. That’s a hurdle to jump, not an excuse to wield.
The next time a big announcement takes place at McClellan, there’s every reason to expect it to be one that knocks us out of our socks and promises an array of job opportunities. That still is McClellan’s destiny.