Rural areas face development challenge

Published 6:59pm Saturday, May 4, 2013

By Wayne Vardaman

AL.com recently published an excellent article, “Left behind: Alabama’s economic development success isn’t felt in every corner of the state,” which describes the issues and challenges facing rural Alabama. We ask that you take a look at the map on page three and go on the Internet to AL.com to read this in depth article.

As you may or may not know, I am actively involved in rural economic development across our state. I chair a committee for the Economic Development Association of Alabama that is working to make both government and individuals aware of the unique challenges that face rural communities. The issues facing Selma and Dallas County cannot be understood outside of the rural context.

In the latest 2012 report, Dallas County is ranked among the top 50 percent of all counties that received jobs and capital investment. Rural Alabama as a whole received only 38 percent of the jobs and 24 percent of the capital investment.

I am happy to say that the latest Quarterly Economic Update prepared by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama shows Dallas County as one of only two rural counties in Alabama to announce a new industry in the first quarter of this year. We announced the location of ALGIX, a clean tech industry that converts algae into bioplastic resin for packaging, agricultural, horticultural and industrial applications.

On other fronts, Menzo Driskell, executive director for the Craig Field Airport and Industrial Authority, and I attended an aviation show in Atlanta last week. It was a good show, and we came away with several good prospects.

We continue to fervently pursue aviation. You probably do not realize that we have only been marketing the hangars on the Craig flight line for the last couple of years. L-3 Communications leased all of the hangars until three or four years ago. When they relinquished the leases, the hangars had to be refurbished. The Craig Airport and Industrial Authority invested a lot of money to get this infrastructure ready to market.

Our Region 6 Workforce Development Committee, which I chair, had a great meeting at Wallace Community College last week. We had state employees, manufacturing companies, representatives from other counties, the Alabama Technology Institute and local school systems in attendance. The main topic was the new grant schedule for June. We also talked about the challenges facing our region in the training arena. Several company representatives talked about the issues they face with the retiring baby boomers and its impact.

The EDA will be addressing these issues in the coming months.

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