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New agency likely

Messenger Publisher

Economic development can be a confusing issue, for everyone involved.

But local leaders caution about letting that confusion cloud the issue at hand.

"When I go to the doctor, I don’t expect to understand everything he’s doing, but I expect him to do it in accordance with the latest standards," said Keith Watkins, a Troy attorney who has been active in economic development efforts.

"And I don’t expect everybody to understand economic development, but we do expect to hold the Chamber (of Commerce) and others accountable" for being competitive in economic development.

Watkins is a member of a committee formed to investigate the possibility of creating at economic development authority in Pike County.

The committee consists of representatives of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the elected governments of Troy, Brundidge, Banks and Goshen, all of whom have agreed to be funding partners in a focused economic development effort.

The structure of that effort is likely to be an economic development authority, a new agency created to represent and serve several communities within Pike County. The creation of the authority will require either the approval of the Pike County Commission or the approval of the Alabama Legislature. Committee members are traveling to Montgomery later this week to meet with state economic development officials to seek input on the best approach to take for Pike County.

"All this committee is doing right now is researching how we will go about forming the authority and how we will structure it,"

Marsha Gaylard, president of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce said last month.

The meeting is designed to seek advice about structures in other communities and to discuss specific challenges or issues facing Pike County.

"It’s going to be a learning situation as much as anything," Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford said previously. "We’re going to get experts in the field to tell us about what others are doing."

And seeking information is the first important step of what Watkins described as "a process, not an event."

"And the leadership (on the economic development committee) cares deeply about getting us in the best position we can be."

The key, Watkins said, is giving the communities in Pike County a vehicle that allows them to compete with other communities in the state. Economic Development Authorities, which are structured differently under law than cities’ Industrial Development Boards, have the authority to buy and sell property; to issue bonds; and to provide more flexibility in recruiting industries.

"We’ve got to be able to compete with the other communities and the incentives they offer," Watkins said. "Because more often than not, we compete against them."