A panel of experts

Oxford Mayor Alton Craft speaks Thursday as the public audience and other mayors at his table listen.

OXFORD Mayor Alton Craft wants to help Oxford grow economically, but not at the expense of his fellow Calhoun County cities.

“We’re competing against Pell City and Birmingham, places like that … not against each other,” Craft told his in-county counterparts on Thursday.

A continued focus on economic development and fostering cooperation among cities in the county was the theme of the second annual State of the Cities event on Thursday. Hosted by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce in the Oxford Civic Center, the event let mayors highlight accomplishments their cities have made over the past year and what their plans are for the future.

Those who spoke at the event besides Craft included mayors Alberta McCrory of Hobson City, Jack Draper of Anniston, Steve Baswell of Ohatchee, Bill Baker of Piedmont and Wayne Willis of Weaver. Jacksonville City Councilman Jerry Parris spoke on behalf of Mayor Johnny Smith, who was unable to attend.

With assistance from a three-minute video, Craft cited accomplishments made in Oxford over the past year or so, from multi-purpose fields opening at Choccolocco Park and the installation of a new city storm shelter, to the planned $400 million expansion of flooring manufacturer Kronospan that’s expected to generate 300 jobs.

The video also highlighted an early proposal for a convention and entertainment center near Choccolocco Park that would include paintball and an ice skating rink.

Craft said after the event that no cost has been estimated for the project, or details on its size developed, and that more planning was needed to see if the idea was even viable.

“We’re not going to go with it if looks like it will lose money, I can tell you that right now,” Craft said.

Draper said Anniston was focusing on continued growth in retail, industry and tourism development.

“We must grow our economy and help existing businesses expand,” Draper said.

Draper said the city has more tax-incentive packages to help attract new business and help existing companies expand. He noted that Anniston had three industry expansion announcements in the past year that equal a combined $26 million investment in the city.

Draper said cooperation between the cities would help everyone prosper.

“This gathering really does underscore the importance of all of us working together,” he said.

Willis said all cities in the county were dealing with the same issue of how to recruit business. Willis said the cities should focus on developing an educated workforce.

“Collectively, we’re going to have to work together to push vocation,” he said. “When we come together in that area, we can attract more industry jobs, which are high-paying jobs.”

Don Hopper, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, who attended the event, said afterward that cooperation among the cities makes his job of attracting industry to the area easier.

“It does make it easier when companies from outside see cooperation,” Hopper said. “It’s going to benefit all of us ... whatever is good for one city is good for another.”

Parris said he and the rest of his City Council were thankful for the help other cities gave after a tornado hit Jacksonville on March 19.

“They were just a tremendous help,” Parris said.

Parris said besides continued recovery from the tornado, which damaged almost 500 homes, the city is planning to build sidewalks near Kitty Stone Elementary School and replace an old sewer line.

Baswell said that a wood products manufacturer called Precision Materials was locating in Ohatchee’s industrial park and will create 40 jobs. Baswell said a small trucking firm had recently purchased land at the industrial park and will soon locate there too.

“Things are looking up,” Baswell said. “And all our existing businesses are doing well,” Baswell said.

McCrory also said her town was seeing some improvements. Earlier this year, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill that solidified Hobson City’s status as a municipality.

Founded in 1899, Hobson City is the first all-black city in the state. However, legal challenges to the city’s existence by white political leaders decades ago made getting certain federal grants difficult.

“Now because of the bill, we can move forward and get things done,” McCrory said. “One of the things we’re looking to do is getting some economic development in Hobson City.”

 

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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