EADS could have ‘changed everything’

Published 12:17 am Saturday, February 26, 2011

A tanker contract for Mobile-based EADS could have “changed everything” for Atmore’s Rivercane industrial park, officials said.

In fact, the theme of Thursday’s Atmore Industrial Development Board meeting was preparation and marketing of industrial sites at Rivercane in anticipation of Mobile being awarded the contact.

Those preparations proved premature as Boeing was awarded the $3.5 billion contract to build aerial fueling tankers later that afternoon.

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The news was a shock to Mobile and Escambia County officials who thought EADS was a shoo-in for the contract.

IDB board member Bob Jones said he was also discouraged by the Air Force’s decision because of what it could have meant for Rivercane.

“That would have been the grand slam, it would have changed everything,” Industrial Development Board member Bob Jones said.

“If you take it out of the equation, it does alter the immediate impact that can come about. It does change the strategy, but there is still viability and still progress going on. It will just make it a longer road back.”

Atmore has a debt of $16 million on the Rivercane property, city officials have said.

A main focus of the IDB meeting Thursday was the preparations needed to have the industrial property at Rivercane declared an advantage site, which would give the city a leg up when possible tier 1 and tier 2 industries began shopping for property. David Hutchinson, director of business development with the Alabama Development Office, talked with members of the IDB regarding the criteria needed for the three- to six-month process.

Conditions include an application, a minimum acreage of 25 acres within an industrial park with infrastructure in place or 50 developable acres, site reasonably rectangular, soil borings determining water and bedrock depths, documentation of utilities, site accessible by a two-lane, pave public roadway, deeds and more. Shell said the city will continue to work towards advantage site status despite the failed tanker contract.

“It would have been a benefit, not only to Rivercane, but to Mississippi, Pensacola and all around,” Shell said. “A project of that magnitude it would be foolish not to try to get ready like that if you thought it might have a change, and the people in Mobile thought there was a very good chance it was going to come this. Of course, they were very disappointed as we were. When you have anything of that size coming into an area and we are only 50 miles away, then it’s got to have a tremendous impact on what we were doing not only in the way of commercial development, but also in the way of interstate industrial sites. Now that possibility is gone.”

Escambia County Industrial Development Board Executive Director Marshall Rogers was also disappointed by the decision, but said the agency will continue to work toward landing other possible projects.

“It’s a big disappointment to us because we felt like Mobile had a good chance of getting it especially since we had already gotten it once before,” she said. “It would have been very beneficial to our area bringing in a lot of jobs as well as construction jobs. Even though we did not get the project we are still working hard to attract business and industry to the area. We are moving forward.”

Boeing beat out its rival EADS for the contract after it was awarded the Mobile-based company and Northrop Grumman in 2008, only to have government auditors block the award after Boeing protested that the evaluation had been too subjective.

The announcement did not settle well with U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile.

“After having already won the competition three years ago and having brought to the table the best refueling aircraft for our military, it’s deeply disappointing that Mobile and the Gulf Coast were not chosen as the home of the new Air Force tanker,” he said. “Unfortunately, the best tanker for our military was not selected. I intend to demand a full accounting as to why.”

EADS has right to a protest the decision. Bonner said he is unsure if EADS will protest.

“While there was great optimism that our team would ultimately prevail, we’ve also been conditioned to expect the unexpected,” he said. “ This competition has been challenged before and it’s not unlikely it will be challenged again. It will ultimately be up to EADS to determine whether they will protest this decision and I will fully support whatever decision they make.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., also said he wants to examine the process behind the contract award decision.

“Regardless of today’s unfortunate outcome, the EADS team’s decision to manufacture the aircraft in Mobile was a clear affirmation by a world-class corporation of our state’s remarkable workforce,” Sessions said. “EADS would not have chosen Alabama if they did not firmly believe that our state was a great place to do business in the global economy. I look forward to assisting them in expanding their presence in Alabama.”

Air Force officials said both Boeing and EADS met all requirements for the contract, but that the price difference was greater than 1 percent, which was described as a “significant savings to the tax payers.”

The aircraft Boeing will construct is the KC46A and is required to have the first 18 aircrafts of the 179 aircraft deal completed by 2017.

A successful EADS contract would have created thousands of jobs for the Gulf Coast.