HEFLIN — Economic development experts from Birmingham sparked a show of unity at the Heflin Industrial Development Board meeting on Tuesday that could benefit area residents.
Representatives from the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, whose mission is to attract and retain industry in the state, spent the day in Cleburne County with board members getting to know the region and some of the local elected officials.
They capped off the day speaking to members at the board’s monthly meeting.
Cleburne County commissioners, the county administrator, the mayors of Heflin and Ranburne, Heflin City Council members, school officials, developers and businessmen all sat together with board members to hear how to attract business and jobs to the county.
“You’ve got the right people here,” said Greg Knighton, vice president of EDPA. “You’ve got to have all the stakeholders at the table.”
To spur development there has to be a common goal and that has to come from all branches of the community — from the cities, the county, the schools and existing industry, Knighton said.
After all, he said, if one city gets a project there will be ripple effects felt all over the county as people spend their money in their own communities. It’s a win for everyone, Knighton said.
Commissioner Emmett Owen said he was proud to see so many people interested in bringing industry to the community.
“To me, it’s about bringing us all together to see if we’re on the same page for economic development and come in a room and start working together,” Owen said.
County Administrator Steve Swafford said he’s already seeing that happen.
“There’s a lot more unity between the cities and the county now than there has been in the past,” Swafford said. “That is a partnership; just the ability to work with people.”
And that is key to drawing business to the community, according to the experts.
Some of the most disastrous marketing he’s seen has been in areas with multiple mayors or commissioners, each selling their communities. The prospect frightens off potential businesses, who need to have the cooperation of the whole region to set up, Knighton said.
Board chairman Jerry Cash said having the expert perspective was helpful. The board wants to market the county better and the experts offered new insight into how to do that.
Mayor Rudy Rooks said the representatives from EDPA made them look at things differently. For instance, they pointed out that city-owned land on Alabama 46 that is currently used for ball fields is marketable to industry, Rooks said.
Rooks also brought up hiring an economic developer in the future through a partnership with the county and private investors. After the meeting, Rooks said he would like to hire someone eventually and had already talked to people about funding the effort.
“I have talked to several private investors who would be willing to step up to the plate,” Rooks said.
Tanya Maloney, director of the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce, said the board does need help coming up with a strategic plan and united vision for the city of Heflin and the county as a whole.
Greg Blalock, director of Building Site and Community Database for the EDPA, said the organization could help the city with that and had successfully helped other cities in the past. But it would take representatives from the entire county.
Commissioner Bobby Brooks said it looks like people are enthused about moving forward and said he was willing to work with anyone that wants to work with the commission.
“That’s what my goal is, for us as a county to go forward, to see growth here,” Brooks said. “It’s time we got out and done something.”
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.