A tale of 2 meetings — one promising, one not

Published 9:25 pm Friday, October 26, 2012

I attended two very important economic development events this week. One of the events was somewhat disappointing, while the other could very well mark a historic day in our community.

Last Tuesday, the top two officials from the South Atlantic District and the Mobile, Ala., Division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers listened as a virtual laundry list of valid reasons for opening the Flint River to barge traffic was given.

The lunch meeting was held at the Bainbridge Marina, with a full view of the Flint River. The two colonels, both who were unquestionably sharp guys as you would expect, said thanks for the lunch, we hear your concerns, we agree with your concerns, but don’t expect barge traffic on the river anytime soon.

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That’s disheartening and disappointing, but shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Whit DeBardeleben, the President and CEO of Steward Machine Company, drove from the company’s headquarters in Birmingham with his son, just to attend this event.

Steward Machine operates a facility adjacent to the marina, and manufacturers heavy, industrial components. They build things like bridges and dam locks, up to 500 tons.

It was truly eye-opening when DeBardeleben said that his company could double or triple its workforce in Bainbridge in a matter of months, if only he could ship product via barge.

When you hear Tommy Dollar, a local agri-businessman, describe how much cheaper it is to transport product and materials via barge, you pay attention.

Those two descriptions of how barge traffic would have a positive impact on Bainbridge and Decatur County piqued the interest of everyone in the room. Everyone … except for the two guys who can make the decision.
Later in the week, on Thursday, I attended the grand opening of Meredian’s new production facility. Meredian is the local, biopolymer manufacturer located in the old American Yarns and Fibers building in the Decatur County Industrial Park.

Founded by Daniel Carraway and Blake Lindsey, this company is a great example of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. The company began with a few guys and an idea. Now, several years later, Meredian, and its sister company Danimer, are offering a product that could literally change the consumer packaging market forever.

Year from now, we could easily look back on that event and say, “I remember when that company was just getting started.” We could also look back on the Tuesday meeting with the Corps, and say, “I wonder what could have been.”