Column/County’s economic outlook bright

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 27, 2007

In today’s edition you’ll find a special section devoted to industry showing the health, as it were, of the industrial base that provides valuable jobs to our community. I hope and expect you’ll find that it gives sound perspective on how Dallas County is positioned as to industrial growth and maintenance, and growth in other areas too.

Dallas County is home to four industrial parks with a wide range of businesses that serve several different global niches. Each finds Selma and Dallas County a good, healthy place to do business, and based on job growth numbers supplied by the Selma & Dallas County Economic Development Authority and the State of Alabama, they are thriving.

The data shows that since 2003 unemployment in Dallas County has fallen from an annual rate of 12.9 percent to 7.4 percent in 2006. While we still lag the state average, it is good progress and means families are enjoying a better quality of life than they were three years ago.

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The data also shows that since 2003 there have been 1,213 jobs added through new industrial announcements and expansion to existing industries. The naysayers will tell you there have also been industry closures, which is true, but not at the same pace as new jobs have been added. According to the Dallas County EDA, 234 jobs have been lost to industry closings since 2003, meaning nearly 1,000 new jobs have been added to the industrial landscape here. Add to that the fact that capital investment in Dallas County continues at a blistering pace with nearly $350 million dollars invested since 2003, including $65 million in 2006 that ranked Dallas County 12th among all of Alabama’s 67 counties in total capital investment and first (yes first) in capital investment in counties with populations less than 50,000. In that same category we also ranked third in job growth with 485 new jobs added.

I firmly believe these numbers are evidence that once you scrape away all the doom and gloom espoused by the naysayers, you find that Selma is a pretty good place to live, work and raise a family. Like every community, there are issues that need to be addressed such as crime, affordable housing, public education and job training, but there are always opportunities for improvement, even in the best of circumstances.

My description of the challenge above; the perception of us (all of us) by those outside Dallas County is the larger issue that we need to overcome. In a recent story in The Birmingham News, a “top industry recruiter” said Alabama’s successful recruitment of ThyssenKrupp shows the state is overcoming what was once a big deterrent to development – a poor image among outsiders. “There have been some instances where when recruiting international companies, we have to get some of their employees to sign agreements to stay here two years,” said Greg Barker, vice president of economic and community development at Alabama Power Co. “Now many of them love Alabama so much they want to stay much longer.”

Barker went on to say that perceptions that Alabama schools didn’t measure up and the state’s turbulent civil rights history, among other things, led to the image problem (sound familiar?), but that the successful recruitment of Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai and others have paved the way for other international companies to see Alabama in a different light.

Alabama beat out 20 other states for the $3.7 billion steel producer who will locate just north of Mobile, and while the ripple effect of this grand slam has yet to be determined, speculation is that every community in Alabama will benefit from it. I expect Dallas County will too.

I don’t have to tell you the moral to this story other than to say we’re sometimes our own worst enemy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at events where I introduce myself to people who have lived here for years only to hear them ask in a tone of shock and surprise “Why did you move here?” My answer always is “Why not? We’re finding this to be a wonderful place to live.” After hearing that, they generally stare back in disbelief, wondering what they could have missed. I’m here to tell you they’ve missed a lot, and that the naysayers have done a fine job of leading them down the primrose path.

Ultimately, change begins from within. God gave us the wonderful ability to all think and act for ourselves, but, sadly, many choose not to exercise this glorious gift but instead choose to listen and act based on what others say and do without regard for what they know is right deep inside them.

So my challenge to each of you reading this is simple – what are you going to do today to help strip away the perception that Selma is a dying community where only bad things happen?

If your answer is “nothing,” then you’re doing a disservice to yourself and everyone else around you and you will reap what you sow.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712 or by email: .