Though different disciplines, urban planning/design and economic development are inherently related as both prioritize shaping the livability and prosperity of a particular community. A master plan serves as a blueprint for future expansion, and economic viability is an important component.
Economic development is aimed at improving the economic well-being and quality of life for a community. With that in mind the Alabama League of Municipalities launched the Economic Development Academy this year.
The academy is designed to educate and engage municipal officials on the essential elements and phases of economic development while highlighting their vital role in economic initiatives and projects within their communities.
Cities and towns are the foundation of Alabama economies and the academy was envisioned the league to further enhance the economic development process at the local level, notes Bryan Parker, director of governmental affairs for the Alabama League of Municipalities. Such a resource is needed as many municipal officials last year were elected for the first time and were unfamiliar with the community and economic development process.
“The league’s academy is specifically designed to engage them in the development of their communities and to expand their knowledge about the opportunities, challenges, laws and logistics involved,” Parker explains. “This program will also assist in identifying next steps to make participating communities successful beyond the short term.”
The league has partnered with Neal Wade, who was director of the Alabama Development Office (now the Department of Commerce) under Gov. Bob Riley, to lead the program curriculum and help communities reach their goals.
“Neal’s experience at the local, regional and state economic development levels, as well as his understanding of public utilities, makes him uniquely qualified to assist communities from conception to execution,” League Executive Director Greg Cochran said.
ALM’s Academy will take place over a one-year period beginning Nov. 1 with an orientation. To graduate, participants must conduct an economic vitality survey of their communities, complete a community assessment/project and attend four statewide training sessions. At the conclusion of the year-long program, graduates will receive a certificate of municipal economic development from the league and the ACCS.
Unlike existing economic development programs, ALM’s Academy is tailored to municipal officials using a team model. The mayor or another designated elected or administrative official and at least two councilmembers are required to participate from each community to form a team of up to five members.
Thirty communities will comprise inaugural class on Nov. 1 in Montgomery: Alexander City, Bessemer, Center Point, Centreville, Chelsea, Coffeeville, Columbiana, Elba, Enterprise, Gadsden, Geneva, Good Hope, Guin, Hartselle, Irondale, Lipscomb, Monroeville, Mount Vernon, Oneonta, Opp, Ozark, Pike Road, Scottsboro, Selma, Tallassee, Tarrant, Thomasville, Trussville, Tuskegee and Union Springs.
The league has also formed a Resource Advisory Council to serve as a resource of experts for academy participants. Additionally, the league has partnered with the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) to provide classroom space and assist in developing the academy curriculum. ACCS will present each participant with a Certification of Municipal Economic Development upon graduation.
Participation in the program can result in better design and planning, and a well-designed community is going to be stronger economically. Therefore, the first order of business for participating communities will be to complete a vitality index designed to provide a snapshot of each community’s strengths and opportunities as well as community livability and current infrastructure, says Parker.
“Many municipalities have infrastructure needs whether they are sewer and water, broadband or aging and dilapidated buildings,” he continues. “The academy will connect communities to partners and resources for infrastructure assistance that will also consider the livability and ‘charm’ of the community, which always ranks high with site selectors when scouting for a retail or industrial project. This program will intentionally guide participants as they consider and re-imagine the vision for their communities and how best to implement changes and improvements.”
*Article Written By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of the Alabama League of Municipalities