Funding the chamber

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 3, 2002

Messenger Publisher

City and county governments are being asked to increase funding for economic development in Pike County.

At a meeting on Thursday, Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Gary Guthrie asked representatives of Brundidge, Troy and Pike County boards to increase their funding to the chamber. That additional funding – about $50,000 per year – will be used solely for economic development.

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"Even though this may be a stretch for everybody, it’s a stretch that needs to be made, because we’re defining our own future" said Dr. Jean Laliberte, vice chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.

The Chamber’s current budget is $262,159, with $87,500 coming from the governments of Troy, Brundidge and Pike County and from the Southeast Alabama Gas District.

The proposed budget of

$316,600 would include $160,500 in funding from the governments of Troy, Brundidge, Banks, Goshen and Pike County, as well as the Southeast Alabama Gas District. Private companies also may be asked to contribute to the economic development efforts, Guthrie said.

"We talked about what we think is a real (funding) need to break out the economic development part of the chamber," Guthrie said. "We’re not talking about redirecting any services we’re giving to members; we’re talking about expanding the services."

The additional funding will allow Chamber President Marsha Gaylard to "take off my chamber hat and put on my economic development hat" full-time, she said. In addition, the chamber will be able to hire an additional staff member to assist with economic development.

It’s a move that many leaders present say must happen in Pike County.

"We’ve got some opportunities we’re facing right now and if we don’t take advantage of them now, October will be too late," said Troy

Mayor Jimmy Lunsford.

He was referring to the opportunities presented by the $1 billion Hyundai assembly plant which will be built in Hope Hull. The facility is expected to bring 2,000 jobs to the Montgomery area as well as up to 6,000 jobs in spin-off industries, such as the suppliers who could locate plants and facilities in Pike County.

"We’re getting contacted by people all over the country," said Alex Whaley Sr., owner of Whaley Construction Co. and immediate past chairman of the chamber board. "These opportunities are real and they’re right now."

And, Lunsford was referring to the opportunities and momentum built in Pike County during the last year through cooperative projects such as the Carter Brothers Manufacturing Co. expansion and the Wal-Mart Distribution Center which is under construction in Brundidge. Both of those brought leaders from the county and the cities together to focus on economic development.

"I think that’s what we ought to be doing … we’ve talked about it since we worked on Carter Brothers," said Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage.

More important, he said, Pike County will be left behind its peers across the state if leaders do not move to formalize – and fund – economic development efforts. "Every town in the state is doing what we’re doing now," he said.

Ramage said Brundidge already has made provisions to help fund economic development in the county. The city’s recently negotiated contract with BFI, which operates the Subtitle-D landfill in Brundidge, calls for 10 cents of each tipping fee to be set aside in a special account designated solely for economic development efforts. "That’s in addition to the tipping fee they will pay the city," Ramage said. "I think (they) did the math on it the other day, and if the landfill gets to capacity, it could be about $38,000 a year."

Brundidge is being asked to contribute $20,000 annually.

The mayor said he will propose to his council that the city begin the increased funding as of June 1. The council must approve any changes in funding.

Lunsford had issued the "challenge" to leaders present to begin the increased funding levels, on a prorated basis, as of

June 1. "October will be too late," he said. "I’m going to recommend to our council that we begin funding at the higher level as of June 1."

For the City of Troy, the funding would increase from $55,000 to $80,000. "And this doesn’t include the $24,000 we give to the chamber for tourism efforts," Lunsford said. The Troy City Council will consider the funding at its next meeting, and the board must approve any increases in funding.

Pike County Commission will be asked to increase funding from

$10,000 to $40,000 – a significant increase, particularly considering the county’s financial woes this year. "We are painfully aware of the monetary status of the county right now," Guthrie said.

The chamber has not received any funding from the county this year, because of budget cuts. However, County Commissioner Karen Berry said she believes the commission should consider what it can do.

"We’re so financially strapped right now, but I think we should do what we can do," she said. "It’s a beautiful concept."

While the governments are being asked to fund the effort quickly, Lunsford said the formalization of the structure of the economic development effort is likely to follow in coming months.

"I think we’ll have to decide if it will be governed by a separate board or authority," he said. "Right now, it’s important the we get the funding and begin working."