Local leaders discuss ideas for growth

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 22, 2005

DEMOPOLIS-In order to boost the economy of the Black Belt local leaders have acknowledged many changes need to be made. At Friday’s Black Belt Mayor’s Conference two speakers who have been very active in helping establish ideas to improve life in the Black Belt again presented their ideas.

Larry Lee, a member of the Black Belt Action Commission and Community Development Committee, said the Black Belt can’t fall behind in technology and training.

“The world we are in today is not the world we used to be in,” Lee said. “We are now facing a global economy.”

Lee said teamwork would be the key to moving the Black Belt forward.

“In rural areas of Alabama we really don’t have the infrastructure and the labor force to be chasing all these large commodities,” Lee said. “If we are going to compete globally we have to learn to work together regionally.”

Through the years populations in the Black Belt have dropped dramatically. Lee revealed some disturbing numbers that reflected just how the labor force has decreased.

From the year 1900 the population of Choctaw County had dropped from 18,136 to 15,568. In that same period the population for Greene County had dropped from 24,182 to 9,974. Hale had dropped from 30,011 to 17,185 and Sumter had dropped from 32,710 to 14,798. Marengo County also reflected a drastic drop from 38,315 to 22,539.

Lee said it was important for Black Belt leaders to resent a sort of united population.

“We have got to understand to do as you are doing,” Lee said. “We have got to figure out how we can get along and grow.”

Lee said a lot of the problems in the Black Belt have to do with a “poor us” attitude which leads people to believe they can go no further without outside help.

“People in the Black Belt have been told for so many years that they have so many problems,” Lee said. “People are sitting around in a lot of rural places saying we could get better, but somebody has to come in and help us. I think we underestimate ourselves sometimes.”

Lee said establishing a stable economy was like constructing a building.

“Economic development is a process,” Lee said. “You have got to have a foundation. If you don’t ask yourself where you are going to be 10 years from now someone will answer that for you. If this region does not take the time to say where are we going to be somebody else will come to find that for you.”

Lee said a change needed to be made all over the state to get rural counties out of their economic rut.

“We need fundamental change in Alabama,” Lee said. “If you keep on doing what you have been doing you will keep getting what you have been getting.”

Law Lamar, who is very active in the group Friends of Hale County, also discussed some ideas his group had to move the Black Belt forward.

Lamar said one of the biggest hurdles the Black Belt had to overcome were unfair elections.

“One of the issues that is very, very important to me right now is voter fraud,” Lamar said. “We have two court cases going on right now that have to do with voter fraud.”

He added voter fraud was an insult to men and women who had risked their lives to maintain a fair system.

“Voter fraud is just rampant and it is embarrassing,” Lamar said. “My dad is a veteran as I am and that is why it is personal to me. My father fought and almost died so that this country could have clean elections.”

Fair elections are all about getting the right leaders in place. Lamar said without fair elections there is no way to have the proper leadership to move the Black Belt to a higher level.

“You have to have the right leaders,” Lamar said. “Without the right leaders you can’t get anything done in this area.”

Lamar also stressed the need for teamwork. He said many times leaders try to get an entity for their city rather than advertising what the area has to offer.

“A lot of times the approach is to go out and get something for my city,” Lamar said. “One of the things you have talked about is working to get things for an area. That is great.”

Lamar also suggested the group include community leaders as well.

“I think you need a group like the one here, but it needs to include county commissioners, a few businessmen and maybe some clergy and housewives,” Lamar said. “That way you can get input from everyone and see what their opinions are.”