Starship Buildings

A section of the Starship buildings at McClellan is shown in this image from 2015.

Being an entrepreneur can be a little bit like doing a high-wire act without a safety net. If something goes wrong in a small business, there are no bailouts or golden parachutes. I know this first-hand because I have owned and operated small businesses for most of my adult life. This includes two companies, Xtreme Concepts and iK9, here in Anniston. But in spite of the ups and downs that go along with being a small business owner, the ultimate payoff is being able to provide jobs for my employees. Watching them earn their fair share of the American dream makes all of the aches and pains of owning a small business worth it.

My companies operate in what’s commonly known as the Starships at the former Fort McClellan. The former Army barracks — which at one point were going to have to be torn down at a cost of $3 million to the McClellan Development Authority — turned out to be an ideal home for a dog-training facility. These are the kinds of dogs that keep you safe at airports, protect members of the military deployed overseas, and help Customs agents secure our borders.

We worked out a deal that allowed us to lease the property, make $1.4 million in improvements to the facilities and ultimately purchase it over time. This was a win for our company, a win for the taxpayers and a win for the community. We employ more than 30 people at the facility, paying them well above industry standards. Our employees’ kids go to school with your kids. They shop at the stores where you shop. And they worship in the churches where you worship.

We’ve worked hard to be good corporate citizens. We provided free training to local police departments from Anniston, Oxford, Heflin and Calhoun County. We gave free use of the facility to the Northeast Alabama Law Enforcement Academy for training of future officers. We donated multiple detection dogs to local police departments that could otherwise not afford them. We also hosted members of Congress and other decision-makers, ensuring that our area stays top-of-mind for key economic developers. We did these things because this is our home, our community and our state.

But we haven’t always gotten everything right. As we moved to purchase the Starships property in accordance with our agreement with the MDA, communication broke down and unfortunately spilled over into public meetings and news stories. Mutual frustration between the two sides of the deal ultimately led to the MDA voting this week to reject our purchase agreement. These are the kinds of challenges of running a small business that I mentioned earlier.

When times get tough, I believe it’s important to remember why we do what we do. So for me, these challenges have been a reminder once again that it is all about our people.

If our original agreement to purchase the Starships facility is not honored, more than 30 jobs will be lost in Anniston. It is my desire to do whatever I can to protect these hardworking Alabamians, many of whom are veterans.

It is the MDA’s mission to help grow our local economy. We had a vision. And the MDA board saw the incredible impact it could have here. And that’s why it has been holding $1.2 million from Xtreme Concepts in escrow for the final purchase of the facility. All that’s left to do is approve the sale, and then we will be able to launch an expansion phase that will bring even more jobs and economic activity to our area.

I believe that vision can still be realized. I believe the mission of my company and the mission of the MDA can fully align and benefit everyone involved. And I am optimistic that we can put our differences behind us, come together and do what is best for the community we all love by approving our purchase agreement. I stand ready to do whatever it takes to take care of our people. And I look forward to restoring the bonds of fellowship, community and economic growth that brought us and the MDA together to begin with.

Landon E. Ash is the chief executive officer of Xtreme Concepts.