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Riley puts Black Belt friend in ADO post

For months leading up to the governor’s election between Don Siegelman and Bob Riley, vocal leaders in the Black Belt expressed concern that a Riley win would amount to a Black Belt loss.

Riley did not visit the Black Belt during his gubernatorial campaign, and leaders surmised that would mean a Riley administration would pay little attention to the needs of this area.

That assumption may have been proven false this week when Riley tapped Neal Wade to head the Alabama Development Office.

Wade, who will take over the ADO’s top position when Riley is inaugurated on Monday, is charged with leading the recruitment of industries to Alabama. And his history with the Black Belt is encouraging news for leaders in this area.

For starters, Wade once lived in Monroe County, which Riggs said will give the new ADO head a solid understanding of issues that affect the Black Belt.

Secondly, and most importantly, Wade’s first interview about his new position with the state touched off a flurry of hope in Marengo and surrounding counties.

In an Associated Press interview, Wade said state leaders must not focus solely on big cities.

Wade specifically said he wants to "do whatever possible" to lure new industries to Alabama’s Black Belt.

Kathy Leverett, executive director of the Demopolis Chamber of Commerce, is ecstatic at Wade’s appointment.

Most recently, Wade served as vice president of economic development for a Florida real-estate operating company, which happens to be that state’s largest private landowner. Before that tenure, Wade served for nine years as president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama where he helped lure Mercedes-Benz, Boeing and Honda to the state.

Riggs isn’t surprised at the appointment of Wade, nor is he surprised that Wade has already begun talking about the Black Belt.

Through a study completed at his agency, Riggs said it’s simple to see why so many political leaders have pinpointed west Alabama for more development.