By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For the Birmingham Times
Ted vonCannon was skilled at playing Monopoly as a child—and that has come in handy for him as an adult.
“I was buying and selling real estate,” he said about his days playing the classic board game. “I just hoped my dice would roll right. That’s what I needed to have.”
As executive director of the Jefferson County Economic and Industrial Development Authority (JCEIDA), some may see vonCannon, 76, playing a grown-up version of the game he played in his youth.
“I think it’s a little bit different,” he said. “I guess if you look at it from 30,000 feet up, it might look like Monopoly, [but] it’s not a matter of money. You can’t buy Pennsylvania Avenue with just dollars.”
The objective with the JCEIDA is to demonstrate to a company executive that his or her company should find a home in one of the authority’s industrial parks.
“Why would I want to buy that? Why would I want to be here?” vonCannon asked, anticipating an executive’s query. “This is a highly competitive business.”
The JCEIDA manages and promotes a pair of Jefferson Metropolitan (JeffMet) parks, one along Lakeshore Parkway just east of Bessemer in Birmingham and the other in the McCalla area, an unincorporated swath of land in Jefferson County about a quarter mile from the Tuscaloosa County line.
Currently, more than 20 companies are operating in JCEIDA parks and lands, employing approximately 3,000 workers.
Prior to assuming the role of JCEIDA executive director in 2012, vonCannon served as president of the Metropolitan Development Board (MDB) from 1988 to 2009; his focus was on creating more and better paying jobs in the Birmingham region by attracting new businesses to the central Alabama area.
He retired from the MDB in 2009 and worked as a consultant for several years before being selected to lead the JCEIDA, where he is responsible for the development, maintenance, and marketing of business and industrial parks and sites in Jefferson County.
The JeffMet parks offer several pluses to site selectors. The first is proximity to transportation, according to vonCannon: “We are immediately adjacent to the mainline for Norfolk Southern rail. We’re also within a half-mile of a major interstate [highway], I-59/20, and the intersection of two interstates, I-459 and I-59/20. We have a great location.”
The JeffMet parks offer sites that are available for development.
“We have great sites, and that’s very important—developable land and sites,” vonCannon said.
“Workforce is also very important,” he added. “We’re in proximity to the metropolitan statistical area of Birmingham, which has about 1.2 million people. Within that is a workforce that’s available nearby.”
Another advantage of the JeffMet parks is business management.
“[Companies] have good, blue chip neighbors with management of the park,” he said. “We maintain and take care of the park.”
There’s also a company’s proximity to its customers.
“Obviously, if you’re a major automotive supplier, Birmingham is a great place to locate,” vonCannon said. “From where our park is located, there’s about a 15- to 20-minute truck delivery time to Mercedes [in Tuscaloosa County] and approximately an hour, maybe slightly more, to Honda [in Talladega County]. Then, if you look at the location of auto automotive assembly plants in the Southeast, you’re within a truck delivery time of nine to 11 [of those plants].”
The JeffMet parks are competing largely with Birmingham’s sister cities in the Southeast, including Nashville and Memphis, in Tennessee, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia.
“I love to compete with Atlanta for certain things because we can be much more price competitive as a community,” said vonCannon.
That’s not to say that the JeffMet parks skimp on quality, he added: “We’re an extraordinarily upscale, high-quality, well-maintained park. This sounds a little self-serving, but it is a park that is immediately adjacent to the largest metropolitan area in the state of Alabama. Customer-wise or business-wise, it has that to offer. Also, it’s the largest workforce available in the state of Alabama by far.”
“Obviously, it’s the closest asset to support industries and businesses, whether it be the steel industry or engineering availabilities,” vonCannon continued. “Those are all the things it takes to keep a business going, and we have that. … While we are not the cheapest park in the world acreage-wise, we certainly think our quality is second to none in the state.”