Blount County Economic Development Council holds first stakeholder meeting

The Blount County Economic Development Council (EDC) held its first stakeholder meeting Dec. 4 to report on progress since its creation early this year.

The first order of business was to report on the condition of EDC chairman Clyde Woods who suffered a stroke on Nov. 30, only five days before the meeting, and has been recovering at Brookwood Hospital in Birmingham since that time. Reports at the time and updates since indicate that his condition is improving.

Woods is one of the community’s best-known and beloved leaders with a long history of service to the business community through his past work with the Blount County-Oneonta Chamber of Commerce.

The EDC program continued with comments from board member and meeting host Evan Ray, Commission Chairman Chris Green, and Birmingham Business Alliance senior vice president Rick Davis.

Green recapped the history of the EDC beginning with the commission resolution that initiated it in late 2013 to its incorporation as a private non-profit corporation in March of 2014.

“It was apparent in 2013 that creating more local jobs was the No. 1 concern of people and officials in Blount County,” Green said.“The commission then decided that creating an economic development group would be priority No. 1. They did so in December of 2013, and it’s one of the most meaningful things done in Blount County for a long time,” he said.

Other points supporting the need for an economic development group:

• Blount was the only county in a 22- county radius without a formal economic development organization.

• Blount ranks 20th among counties in the state in available work force but 57th out of 67 counties in size of weekly payroll.

• At 1 percent, Blount ranked last in the state in employment growth in 2013.

Davis emphasized the support available from the Birmingham Business Alliance and made these additional points:

• 85 percent of job growth is from existing industries.

• To attract new industries is expensive, yet communities must be prepared to make the necessary investment proactively, because other counties are doing so routinely.

• Being prepared involves “finding suitable land, grading it, getting utilities and other infrastructure in place, maybe even building a spec building.”

Following introductory comments, EDC vice-chairman Kelley Stone narrated two informational presentations: a slide show on Blount County assets and a Powerpoint presentation on the council’s strategic focus. The slide show highlighted with visuals the four “Pillars of Success” for Blount County: Organization (the EDC as the single point of contact and strategic nexus for attracting industry); Resources (natural resources, workforce, education, leadership); Communication; and Unity (the need for diligent cooperation among all stakeholders in achieving success). The Powerpoint presentation covered goals and the long-term focus of the EDC.

Goals are:

• to develop a long-term strategic plan.

• to stimulate local job growth.

• to develop sustainable funding for the organization.

• to prepare a comprehensive inventory of available commercial/industrial property.

The long- term focus is:

• to create local jobs through retention of existing industries and recruitment of new industry.

• to encourage entrepreneurism.

• to promote tourism.

Stone introduced the members of the EDC board. They are listed here, along with their business affiliation:

Tim Compton Traditions Bank president
Allen Gilliland Spring Valley Beach
Clyde Woods Triangle Marketing
Waymon Pitts Retired county commissioner
Darren White Educator/developer/ realtor
Alan Smith Businessman (steel industry)
Lisa Wester Civic leader
Gary McBay Retired school system official
Kelley Stone Alabama Power business manager
Bob Harvey Real estate executive
John Brothers Retired bank executive
Danny Kelly Hometown Bank president
Tim Whitley Farmer/Farmers Federation Board member
Evan Ray St. Vincent’s Blount administrator
David Hornsby Businessman (steel industry)

Officers are Woods (chairman), Stone (vice-chairperson), Wester (secretary), and Kelly (treasurer).

Stone also introduced the Economic Development Council’s first permanent employee, Lisa Baker, who will begin work Jan. 2 as development coordinator/ project manager. Baker is currently employed as administrative assistant to the Blount County probate judge. She is completing coursework for a bachelor’s degree in business and economic development from The University of Alabama.

Stone also announced the EDC permanent office location will be on the second floor of the Cadence Bank building in Oneonta. It will officially open on Jan. 5.