Jonathan Tullos, director of the Wiregrass Economic Development Corporation, is a West Point graduate who completed helicopter flight school at Fort Rucker.
You can believe he’s proud that Enterprise and Coffee County will be home to the state’s newest veterans home in about three years.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity and a great thing for the community, but more important the winners in this whole thing are the veterans,” Tullos said while speaking at the Military & Veterans Affairs Quarterly Breakfast on Wednesday morning at the Enterprise Farmers Market.
The need is tremendous. The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA) did a feasibility student in 2018 that concluded by 2045 there would be a need of 1,445 beds to service the veterans in Alabama. Today, there are only 704 beds in the state. Just as scary, there are 911 veterans currently on a waiting list for beds.
The veterans home in Enterprise will be the fifth in the state, following Huntsville, Alexander City, Pell City and Bay Minette.
Enterprise prevailed over 12 submitted bids from cities and communities in southeast Alabama. The stated criteria was the favorability of the plot of land, transportation accessibility, workforce, specialized health care within the proximity of the site, and optional additional factors by the proposer.
The home, expected to be completed in about three years, will be a $65 million facility, have about 175 beds and employ 250 to 300 employees, according to the ADVA.
“The economic impact, it looks like some 324 jobs — we plugged in 275 employees at the veterans home. About 324 jobs affiliated, with about a $19 million annual impact in Coffee County,” Tullos said. “That takes into account the payroll and those folks that would take their paychecks and buy food or go bowling or go to a movie or buy clothes.
“Those dollars reverberate. The $8-10 million payroll is going to come back to Coffee County. That’s the best figure we can come up with.
“Additionally, there is some $90-plus million in economic impact on the construction side. It’s a $65 million project. Goods will be purchased by people to build the facility. Hopefully, we have some local businesses that will benefit from that. In addition to that, there are contracts that will be let, some additional add-on businesses, but that whole workforce that’s here for that roughly two-year window that they’re building is going to need to stay in hotels, they’ll need to eat. For the most part, those crews don’t live here right now. That’s a one-time economic impact, but it’s still an impact to the area.”
In the three weeks since the announcement, Tullos had an opportunity to reflect on Enterprise’s winning bid. He cited three key factors he said may have made the difference.
“They had the foresight to acquire the land, spent the money to clear it, do title work and a Phase I environmental (study). They did that before they knew veterans home was going to be here,” Tullos said. “They did that in 2018. At that time, the City of Enterprise was looking forward and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve only got about 30 acres or so of land left in the city that if there’s an economic development project that we might be able to offer.’
“They were able to acquire property between Highway 51 and Highway 167 that we were able to get about 230 acres to the industrial development board in Enterprise. That property could have sat for 30 years, but here we are today, a little over a year later, and realize that property is going to be returning some economic impact in dollars onto the investment the city leaders made.”
He also teamwork with the county.
“In doing this about seven years now, we preach regionalism,” Tullos said. “We’re truly a regional organization and we’re a regional area. By the county and the city working on a joint proposal and offering the same kind of package for what they would do for the veterans home on site A and site B, I think that made an impression on the ADVA Board because they were putting the veterans first.
“They didn’t say if you do it here we’ll do this, but if you do it there we’re not going to do it. I think that matters. So teamwork was a big factor.”
Finally, acting aggressively gave this area a head start on the project. When the ADVA sent out requests for proposals, it gave a 30-day notice. Tullos said Enterprise had been working on its bid for around eight months.
“They used the resources at their disposal and started working on the project early,” Tullos said. “When you hear about something that’s coming down the pipeline, you’ve got to options. You can wait until somebody tells you what’s going to happen, or you can be proactive and lean forward.
“That’s a tribute to the folks here. There’s a lot of veterans in here and that’s kind of what we were always told — lean forward, be aggressive. That’s a good thing that I think the areas we represent and our organization did to kind of push the project forward.”
Obviously, Enterprise and Coffee County submitted the best bid it could — and won the project. It could have followed the minimums and given the project 27 acres, Tullos said.
“Instead, they gave it 108,” he noted. “I can’t tell you what role that played. I can’t say if it had been 50 acres Enterprise would (or would not) have landed the home.”
Tullos said all many businesses will benefit from the project, but so will the schools.
“I think this is going to be a boost for the K through 12 system and the community college,” he said. “The type of workers that will be in this facility — your CNAs, LPNs, RNs, all those kind of folks in the medical profession — that helps lend itself to types of dual-enrollment programs at the high schools in the area as well as the type of offerings that Enterprise State Community College and others would be able to have.
“It might mean that we finally get some level of a nursing program at Enterprise State. I don’t know that for sure, but those opportunities will exist now because we have a facility like this coming to the area.
“Finally, not least here, our hospital and medical professionals will benefit greatly from this. Those 175 new residents when this facility is up and running will need medical care. We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like. … All of our medical professionals will have some benefit to this because we’re going to have 175 new residents here in the city.”
In terms of what’s next, Tullos cautioned that it’s the ADVA’s project.
“They’re going to guiding the timeline,” he said. “I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen. What they said at their announcement was they would open in about three years. Over this next year it would be reasonable to think they might look for an architect and then take bids on the design over the next 12 months and they maybe go vertical sometime after that. Sometime in 2021 I’d look for the veterans home to start going vertical.
“Again, these are my assumptions based on what was out there. This is not information put out by the ADVA.”