Despite low ranking, Selma has potential

Published 6:10 pm Monday, April 28, 2014

Selma received some disappointing news this month when The Alabama Policy Institute — a conservative think-tank — ranked the city as the worst for business friendliness.

The study used economic vitality, business tax burden, community allure and transportation infrastructure as its indicators of overall business friendliness. Only cities that reached a certain population threshold were included, according to Dr. John Hill, who conducted the study.

The consideration of factors only within a city’s limits is clear, as the report lists Birmingham near the bottom of the list. It may be confusing to some because the Birmingham metro area is one of the fastest growing areas in the state. The metro area is divided up into several municipalities, two of which are listed in the list’s top ten. Similarly, two outlying municipalities in the Montgomery metro area are listed as the top two on the list and three cities near Mobile are listed in the top 10. It’s easy to bash the report as unfair but, in reality, Selma has some real problems.

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Sure, our area has industry, but a good portion of the industry is outside of the city limits. The industry is beneficial for our county, but when you consider what’s within the city limits, it’s mostly retail stores.

There are some things Selma can fix.. For example, attracting new business to the area would reduce the unemployment rate, which was a factor in the study.

Selma has a prime opportunity to lure a business to Selma following JC Penney’s planned closure on May 3. The store’s departure will certainly create a hole in sales tax revenue for both city and county government, but with proper recruitment, local officials could land a business that would generate more sales tax revenue than JC Penney ever did.

Selma could also improve its education system, leading to better workforce preparedness and perhaps a lower crime rate.

The Dallas County School System is a well-run operation that is looking for improvement. Some of its schools remain on the failing schools list, but the system is beginning to take the right steps towards a top-notch education. The Selma City School System  is still pocked with problems. Acting Superintendent Larry DiChiara, who also leads the state intervention team, is in the midst of plugging holes in the system and finding long-term solutions. When the state intervention is over the school system should be in significantly better shape.

Law enforcement officials also need to come up with innovative ways to curb crime. Stuffing criminals behind bars removes them from Selma’s streets, but does little to fix the any long-term problems.

Regardless of the report, Selma can and should focus on improvement. For too long, Selma residents have talked about how the cities best days are in the past. But, without a focused approach, Selma should expect to see itself at the bottom of the Alabama Policy Institute’s list again next year.