Rural Alabama grabs the attention of economic developers


The Alabama Economic Development Community pays special attention to rural counties with the goal of uplifting the entire state.

A new Alabama rural development initiative is gaining momentum and for the first time ever, a rural economic development conference will be held in the state from January 29-30.

Geographically speaking, rural Alabama makes up the majority of the state with 40 of the 67 counties falling into the defined category of a population of less than 50,000.

Key organizations say if Alabama is to prosper, it must change the plight of these counties, which suffer from declining populations, low labor force participation, and lack of education. and the necessary skills.

EDAA’s Rural Development Initiative targets jobs for rural Alabama from the Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Alabama Department of Commerce, the Alabama Economic Development Association (EDAA) and the Alabama Economic Development Partnership (EDPA) are leading the effort, joined on the initiative’s steering committee by Alabama Power, PowerSouth, Regions Bank, ALFA, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, North Alabama Industrial Development Association, Spire and Southeast Gas.

That’s a lot of power, reinforced by a president who was once the speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.

“Alabama has a problem and we are trying to solve that problem through this rural development initiative,” said Seth Hammett, president of the Alabama Rural Development Initiative. “We’re trying to find ways in each of the five chosen regions to show how Alabama can reverse this trend. I don’t know if this will work or not, but shame on us if we don’t at least try.

A panel on rural economic development at the EDAA Winter 2020 conference in Montgomery this week presented many dire statistics, but also showcased an aligned effort to meet the needs.

Steve Foshee, President and CEO of Tombigbee Electric Cooperative, speaks at USDA’s announcement of rural broadband for Alabama in December. (contributed)

In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on rural economic development in the state. Special incentives at several levels are intended to encourage companies to locate in rural counties. The Alabama Rebuild plan will bring much-needed infrastructure improvements to all areas of the state, including rural Alabama. Workforce strategies, education initiatives, and prepared sites are some of the problems managers are trying to solve.

Some issues have been known for years.

“It’s high time, after all this talk about doing something, that we finally try to see if we can reverse this trend,” Hammett said.

The Rural Development Initiative is concluding its work with the first region where it has developed a strategic plan.

“We call it a strategic plan, but you can also call it a ‘to-do list’,” Hammett said. “We mean, if you want to reverse this trend in your region, in your region, this is what you have to do.”

Brian Hilson is Rural Development Strategist at EDAA. The former head of the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce brings a wealth of experience to the rural initiative.

Wilson’s work with the EDAA is more strategic than the efforts of the Commerce Department, which is more tactical and practical in its approach.

Hilson said the challenges of rural Alabama are well known, but they are not the whole story.

“There have also been a lot of recent successes,” he said. “We have had fantastic industrial announcements in Sumter County, Marengo County, Henry County as well as great strides in infrastructure planning. We have made huge investments in broadband access.

Better yet, there is growing interest in rural areas nationwide, Hilson said.

“States understand the importance of rural communities, both their well-being and their future, but also the fact that they are an asset to their States,” he said.

Brenda Tuck is the rural development manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce. (contributed)

Bevin Tomlin, economic and community development manager at Alabama Power, said the goal is to help rural counties capitalize on existing assets and infrastructure so people “can live in the small towns they want. live instead of thinking they have to move to an urban area to get the quality of life they want, as it exists in rural Alabama. We just need more jobs to exist in rural Alabama.

Armed with incentives and a multi-faceted team keen to meet the challenges, Brenda Tuck, rural development manager at the Alabama Department of Commerce, said rural Alabama was ready to get the help he wanted. needed.

“We have more tools in the basket than ever before,” she said. “You look at where we’ve been and where we are today, we have that goal. And at the end of the day, we have so many opportunities out there and we just need the world to know it. “

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