Marengo EDA unveils Business Development Center

SSgt. Reginald Cook returned to tour the facility to which he was once attached.

SSgt. Reginald Cook returned to tour the facility to which he was once attached.

SSgt. Reginald Cook didn’t recognize the place.

Cook was among some 100 people to attend the Grand Opening and Open House of the Marengo County Business Development Center in Linden on Friday. He had last been in the building in 2012 when the 440th Theater Opening Element of the National Guard shut down operations and moved to Selma.

The building’s original use isn’t being forgotten now that its purpose has changed. It will continue to be known as Ft. Hill-McManus-Boggs, named for Demopolis attorney Col. Thomas H. Boggs Jr. and the late Lt. Col. Bracey C. Hill and Col. Elwin L. McManus.

Marengo County Extension director Kathryn Friday recalled how the idea for the Business Development Center began and grew as she and the newly hired Economic Development Authority executive director Brenda Tuck toured the armory just after its closing was announced.

“Why don’t we move out there?” they mused.

Andrew Williams shows off the Deep South Foods processing facility housed in a building behind the armory. Two workers are preparing collard greens for sale to Red Diamond.

Andrew Williams shows off the Deep South Foods processing facility housed in a building behind the armory. Two workers are preparing collard greens for sale to Red Diamond.

With Tuck’s background as an incubator director and with the Alabama Extension Service resources through Auburn University and Alabama A&M, they believed the facility could provide training and assistance for people who were trying to start a business, Friday said.

The two women took their idea to Marengo County commissioners and asked them to consider purchasing the property.

Now, three years later, in addition to housing the offices of the county’s Economic Development Authority and the Alabama Extension Service, “It is being used by all kinds of groups,“ Friday said. “It is a program that’s working and we’re excited about it.”

Getting the resources and determining the direction for the center posed challenges. “It has not always been easy; we didn’t always agree,” said Commission Chairman Freddie Armstead. “But we always knew that at the end we’ll work together.”

Finding another purpose for the armory “is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened in Linden, Alabama, in a long time,” he added.

Jim Byard, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, complimented organizers on setting up the Business Development Center. It was an effort of local leadership and state partnership.

Col. Thomas Boggs Jr. stands next to photos of the three men for whom the center is named.

Col. Thomas Boggs Jr. stands next to photos of the three men for whom the center is named.

“You do not realize how important this facility is,” Byard told the group. “This is a normal happening in a larger community, but it is not usual in a smaller community. We don’t have these around the state.”

“You’ve got to have somewhere to start in order to grow,” said Ronnie Davis, state director for Rural Development of the US Department of Agriculture. “One of the big holdbacks for economic development in our area of the state is that people don’t have the facilities, the opportunities.”

With the incubator and the proven cooperation among its people, “people will want to become a part of Marengo County,” Davis said.

Already the repurposed facility is an incubator for several new businesses which are providing employment for county residents. Alabama Southern Community College also uses it to provide a third site for its Ready to Work Program.

The dedication program paid tribute to the men and women who served in the Linden armory. Special recognition was given to the three men whose names grace the facility.

“The history of this country has been the local militia,” said Boggs, who accepted a plaque for himself and for McManus.

“It is quite an honor to be here representing my father who lived and died for this armory,” said Steve Hill.

Others taking part in the program included Chaplain Col. Brooks Barkley, the Demopolis High School ROTC and Brig Gen. Allen Harrell.