Melton talking in Black Belt

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

TUSCALOOSA – With an election just two weeks away, Bryant Melton has been talking with people across the Black Belt picking up the pulse of the people and pushing three-toothed approached.

Melton is seeking the Senate District 26 seat left vacant by Charles Steele’s resignation earlier this summer. He faces Demopolis Councilman Thomas Moore and Hale County State Rep. Bobby Singleton in the special election, just

a week before the Nov. 2 general election.

Melton said he was focused on four main areas: education, jobs, infrastructure and communications.

“What I’m hearing in talking to people from Choctaw County to Bibb County is quality education,” he said in a telephone interview with The Times.

“I put a priority on education and it’s a key to what we’re trying to get to in the Black Belt, but quality education won’t get us there alone,” he said.

He said equally important to education was stopping the Black Belt’s “brain drain.”

“We need jobs – the ones that are going to hold our young people in the county,” he said. “The young people get their education and then take it to other parts of the state and the only way we’re going to hold them here is

to have good paying jobs and medium-paying jobs,” Melton said.

Of course, he’s realistic about what it takes to create those jobs in the region.

“It’s all intertwined,” he said, noting infrastructure growth and education brings about economic development.

“We need to work at bringing in all of the basics to make sure we can bring in industry, and grow our industry that’s already here,” he said.

Part of that emphasis, he said, ought to include a rebirth in the region’s agricultural roots.

“A lot of emphasis has been shifted away from growing commodities that can be put on the market,” he said.

“If we’d come back to the reality of getting small farmers back to the land … we could really

be a bread basket for a lot of the world,” Melton said.

An essential part of that concept would be designing a marketing system that would allow farmers to grow crops and marketers to move those commodities in the marketplace.

“We can’t expect small farmers to grow and to market,” he said.

Expanding timber and aquaculture activities is also in the development mix for the Black Belt in Melton’s view.

“Any industry that’s friendly to the area is welcomed,” he said. “It’s a matter of fine-tuning what we have and going forward from there.”

A lot of “going forward” could be accomplished with better communications, said Melton, a Perry County native who once taught school in Hale County and sold insurance in Marengo, Sumter and Greene counties.

“The other item I think is posing a problem – some of it is outsiders’ doing and some are things we’re doing at home – is not having open lines of communication;,” he said. “Information is powerful but if we’re not communicating, we’re not doing much.”

Part of the understanding could come, Melton said, through the Black Belt Action Commission.

“We need to put some teeth into the Black Belt Commission and have an emphasis on it like what was put on the Tennessee Valley Authority. We can use that vehicle [the BBAC] as a vehicle to move not only one county but the whole region forward. We can make it work,” he said.

From Melton’s viewpoint, the commission needs just three teeth: the identification of projects, accountability and funding.