It’s time to take off the blue ribbons

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Over the last two decades, John Clyde Riggs has developed an uncanny ability to discuss the economy of West Alabama and the Black Belt region. He knows how to make you feel good about the future; he knows how to gently degrade the past.

Riggs heads the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Commission &045; an agency that helps recruit and educate industries about this region of the state &045; and his job provides plenty of insight about the economic needs of West Alabama.

On Saturday, Riggs joined a number of other economic developers in Alabama at a rural economic summit in Uniontown hosted by U.S. Rep. Artur Davis. While Riggs has attended hundreds &045; if not thousands &045; of events like the one Saturday, one of his opinions during that event should be shared with the citizens who make up this region.

A discussion on the benefits of the Saturday summit quickly turned to the solutions of improving our region. Riggs talked about education of citizens as one of the most important aspects toward progress.

Beyond the citizens and planning, however, Riggs made a point that goes straight to the heart &045; and the top &045; of the matter. &uot;We’ve got to get our story to the executive level,&uot; Riggs said.

In simple terms, Riggs believes the decision-makers of Alabama will be the ones who make the difference in this state. He’s not talking about city council members, county commissioners or garden club presidents, either.

He’s talking about Jerry Newby, president of Alfa. He’s talking about Charles McCrary, CEO of Alabama Power. He’s talking about Gov. Bob Riley. He’s even talking about President Bush.

The opinion of Riggs carries an enormous amount of insight for a number of reasons. First, Riggs has seen all the efforts to revive West Alabama and the Black Belt. Second, he has watched as &uot;progressive&uot; plans have come and gone.

The most recent example of Riggs’ concern has come from the executive branch of state government. When Gov. Riley took office nearly a year ago, he tapped State Sen. Hank Sanders as chairman of a new Black Belt Commission, and unless that commission has met in private, we know of nothing that has been done in regards to that commission.

Before Riley, former Gov. Don Siegelman attempted the same feat with his Alabama Commerce Commission. During Siegelman’s four years in office, he spent a lot of time riding our roads, but we never felt the impact of the ACC.

For decades, we have planned to make West Alabama and the Black Belt a better region. But until the decision-makers of this state take the blue ribbons off their task forces and decide to make economic progress a reality, we’ll forever be bound by the aching reality that improving this region is a wonderful campaign slogan but a worthless waste or resources.