Economic authority may lie ahead

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2002

Messenger Publisher

A separate economic development authority may lie ahead for Pike County.

An authority ­ which would be independent of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, although it may share some resources ­ is an option that several local leaders discussed this week.

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"I hear two things," said Keith Watkins, a Troy attorney who is active in economic development and in the chamber. "One, that we want to separate economic and chamber functions and, two, that we want them both to be countywide efforts."

The chamber, he said, has been incorporated and in place for 20 years and, for several years now, economic development in the form of industrial recruitment has been a function of the chamber.

"But to me, as an arm of the chamber, this (economic development effort) would have no authority," Watkins said. "If you’re going to fund it, then set it up right and do it right."

Watkins is serving on a committee being formed now to evaluate the best

structure for an enhanced economic development efforts. The committee is chaired by Gary Guthrie, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, and will include representatives of each of the governmental funding partners.

The committee is a result of efforts by the chamber to enhance economic development in Pike County. Marsha Gaylard, president of the chamber, said the organization has worked internally for more than a year to realign its structure and duties to allow her to focus the majority of her time on economic development.

The board went public in April, asking for increased funding from governmental partners to formalize the economic development efforts. Those partners initially contacted were the cities of Troy, Brundidge, Banks and Goshen, and the Pike County Commission. Troy, Banks and Goshen have approved increased funding levels; the Brundidge council is scheduled to vote on the funding this Tuesday and the Pike County Commission should consider the request for a third time on June 24.

Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage said he is optimistic his council will approve the funding increase, particularly with efforts to create a separate economic development authority or agency.

"That answers some of our questions," he said Thursday.

Harry Sanders, county administrator, represented the commission at the meeting, and said then he was unable to speak on behalf of the county on the issue of funding.

Karen Berry, president of the Pike County Commission, did not attend the Thursday. However, she said later that the commission is "financially strapped."

"As soon as we can see daylight, we will think seriously about it," she said on Friday.

Under existing Alabama law, an economic development authority has more ability to borrow money, purchase land and take an active role in economic development than bodies such as an Industrial Development Board. Once created, the authority would be governed by a separate board, which would be appointed. The membership of that board ­ and specifically the allocation of the authority to appoint the members ­ varies under the law, Watkins said. "We’d have to look at what’s best for us," he said.

However, current law also states that the county commission must approve any structure, he said.

No deadline has been set for the committee researching the structure of an authority locally, but leaders seem eager to move ahead with the ripe climate in Alabama.

Citing the possibilities that lie ahead with the location of Hyundai assembly plant in Hope Hull, leaders said they believe the need for increased funding exists now.

"Right now, we’ve got a vehicle that’s functioning," said Alex Whaley Jr., past-chairman of the chamber board. "But we should pursue aggressively (this other option).

"Everything’s perched and ready, but we need money and we need everybody on board."