Williamson’s effort draws area leaders together

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 31, 2005

LIVINGSTON – Friday marked the first step in what may be something big for Black Belt counties. Representatives from around the area, including mayors and concerned citizens gathered at the Bell Conference Center at the University of West Alabama to begin their walk down the road of progress.

The meeting has generated a lot of excitement and the anticipation carried over, as the attendance was larger than expected. While there were many different types of people in the conference room, there was but one idea…how can we work together to make conditions better for our people.

Togetherness was the point stressed most at the meeting. Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson, who spearheaded the effort to get Black Belt mayors together, said it was up to everyone in the room, and not someone in an office in Montgomery to get things done.

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“You and I all know that someone from outside the Black Belt can come in and say what we need and what’s wrong and here is the way to fix it,” Williamson said. “But they can’t really do that. We have got to do that ourselves. They can have plans that are band-aids, but if we want to change anything in the Black Belt we have to get down in the dirt and do it ourselves.”

Both new and old mayors had an eye opening experience by special guest Anita Archie of the Alabama Development Office. Archie focuses on getting new industry and jobs in Alabama and had many helpful tips for the crowd.

Archie’s first point was to stress that it would take patience to tackle the problems that exist. Archie said it was important to take on problems a little at a time.

“It is just like Mayor Williamson said. We can’t solve all the problems,” Archie said. “But we can get out there and identify the issues and have a common vision.”

Archie said the issues are the same and everyone knew what they were by now. The important thing is to look at what is going right and use it as a tool to correct what is going wrong.

“You have to be realistic in what you can do,” Archie said. “You know what your challenges are. We all know that. But what can we do to focus on what we have going on that is positive. You have to identify what you have going on positive in the area and say lets try to focus on the positive s and use them to overcome the negatives.”

One such positive is existing industry. Archie said each county in the Black Belt had untapped resources in their local businesses. She said before we go looking for solutions from outside businesses it is important to become reacquainted with some of our old friends.

“Your best asset to try to get jobs into your area are the industries you already have,” Archie said. “A lot of people believe it is great to court a new industry into your area. But the biggest economic development comes from businesses in your existing area.”

Archie said an unbelievable number of jobs can be produced by cities and companies with good relationships.

“Eighty percent of new jobs come from existing industries,” Archie said. “Go talk to them. Try to see what ideas they have as far as growing. Let them know that you care about them also as well as bringing in new industry and new jobs.”

Archie said another major asset are the leaders themselves. She said it is important for mayors, council members or any other type of officer to stay focused on the issues and not giving people sugar coated statements.

“You have got to have leaders who are going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear,” Archie said. “You have got to have effective leaders who are willing to work together and have that common cause.”

Archie also stressed dropping a competitive attitude. She said if Black Belt counties work together jobs in one county will employ people form other counties. Archie said Coosa and Tallapoosa counties had worked together to develop the county line in the Lake Martin area and had seen tremendous success. Archie said the Black Belt had the ability to do the same.

“We all have the same problems,” Archie said. “So how about us coming together to market our area and pool together our resources to work together.”

The mayors proved very responsive to the message and exhibited their enthusiasm for another meeting. The next meeting will be at the end of March and will focus on an issue all counties need help with.

In their second meeting the University will host the same group with a focus on fundraising. Between now and the end of March UWA plans to put together a group of people to hold an informative class on grant writing and proper application procedures. A day and time has not been set, but it will likely be the last Friday of March from 9 a.m. until noon.

UWA President Dr. Richard Holland said his school is very concerned with helping positive things happen for the Black Belt and they were willing to do whatever they could to get things headed in the right direction.

“We appreciate what all of you do for the cities and the people of the Black Belt,” Holland said. “It is good that all of you can get together and talk about these problems and see how they can be solved. The University is here to serve you. Whatever we can do to help you in those efforts we will do that.”

An official meeting time is expected to be set at the convenience of all mayors.