GLOVER COLUMN: We should not outgrow our heritage

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 22, 2007

One of the most touted issues by government entities from the area &045; from city councils to county commissions &045; is economic development. Everyone talks about programs and grants they are attending or obtaining that will boost the economics for their constituents. People talk about what an area can do or needs to facilitate the desires of industries, retail or restaurants looking at the area.

Not an issue resigned to elected officials, residents of the area want more. More jobs, more stores and more places to dine. A rumor of new development spreads like wildfire, and not without good cause. Resident of the area are forced to travel for many stores in which they wish to shop, restaurants in which they wish to eat and, unfortunately for many, the jobs they really want.

And there is much going on in the area to foster the development many wish to see. You have economic development workshops, like the Community Leaders Educational Opportunity Workshop yesterday. There are groups that have banded together to help facilitate the needs of entire regions rather that those of single communities, like the Black Belt Mayors Conference. The University of West Alabama has its regional Center for Community and Economic Development, which fosters growth of knowledge on what business need in the area and what business from outside the area want to locate here (among other invaluable services).

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Looking at the youth of the area, there are numerous leadership programs intended to prepare bright young minds to face the challenges of leading their communities forward tomorrow. And all of these programs are good, some great, for the community, area and region.

A lot has been brought to the area through the efforts of these groups to educate communities about specific needs and wants of new industries and businesses. You have Wal-Mart, Peebles, Hibbett Sports, numerous fast food joints and a sprinkling of other restaurants. I am sure there are other groups brought to the area I have forgotten to mention, but what I haven’t seen (and I haven’t been here too terribly long, so correct me if I am wrong) is the large industry that is truly needed to stimulate the growth of not just Demopolis, but the surrounding cities and towns as well.

What I have seen is a small influx of some business that, in the long run, won’t have enough effect to help the region realize the large goals it has set in economic development. I have also seen evidence of an erosion of the things the region can use to stimulate growth during my time here &045; history and culture.

By being so focused on the new the area has gotten away from the old that can be utilized to stimulate growth. By conserving the historic structures and the area specific culture that thrives in, I’ll go ahead and say it, under populated and under developed areas, the region can find a way to eventually entice the big fish that keep throwing the hook, so to speak. And this is true for the whole Black Belt region.

Look at the land and water assets that are at the area’s disposal. Hunting and fishing are big draws to out of town individuals. From what I have see, Christmas on the River and other local community and craft oriented events draw people form more urbanized areas to visit the region.

What is needed is a hook to keep these individuals, who are seeking a break from the tedium and hassles of living in suburbs of larger areas, interested.

Besides constructing the Interstate 85 corridor between Montgomery and Meridian, the only hope I see in making a large industry look a the area is creating unique cultural feel that makes individuals want to move out into the region and make the area an appealing place to live.

It would be relatively easy to bolster the parks in the area. Build hiking trails, biking trails and nice campsites to attract the outdoor enthusiast to an area that has a lot of natural resources to offer, though it is under developed in that respect. With the wetlands associated with the rivers canoe and fishing trips would bring other individuals looking for an escape from urban sprawl.

You see, by developing industry and business alone, with no long-term plan to sustain it nothing will be accomplished. It is possible that industries may come, and businesses will follow but what happens when they leave?

In the end it isn’t accepting any random business that wants to locate to the area that will bring the economic ends that communities in the region seek.

It is by carefully filtering what comes into the area and retaining the feel, diversity and culture that you will see not only one industry come, but many industries desire to come to the region.

By trying to do too much, too quickly, the region runs the chance of losing its individualism and charm. Instant gratification is good for the short term needs of the area, but building a base of amenities that will entice and retain numerous businesses and industries, while retaining the cultural charm and history of the region, is good for the long-term health and growth that should be the goal.

Brandon Glover is a staff writer for The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to