Chamber honors historic businesses

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Pike County Chamber of Commerce honored six local businesses during its Business Development Week breakfast on Tuesday.

The companies – Conecuh Valley Railway, Jackson Hardware, Pinckard Vault, South Alabama Electric Cooperative, Troy Bank and Trust, and Whaley Pecan – all have been in business for 75 years or more, said Kathleen Sauer, president of the chamber.

In recognizing the businesses and their contributions to the community, the Chamber cited the impact each business has made throughout the years, from Conecuh Railroad’s 12-mile short track between Goshen and Troy that delivers 2,200 loads per year to Troy Bank and Trust, which grew from $50,000 in capital when founded to a bank with more than $823.4 million in assets. The Chamber also recognized Jackson Hardware as being a place to buy tools and equipment, as well as socialize and share community news; Whaley Pecan for its fourth-generation leadership that now oversees a company that ships products internationally from its Troy location; Pinckard Vault and Marble for more than 85 years of service to the community; and South Alabama Electric Cooperative for serving more than 16,200 active members and still charging the same $5 membership fee as when it opened in 1937.

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The breakfast also featured a presentation by Dr. Joe Sumners, director of the Economic and Community Development Institute at Auburn University.

“You’ve got to have a strong community if you’re going to have a strong economy,” Sumners said, outlining the three key factors needed for economic development.

“You need a physical infrastructure, roads, telecommunications and these days broadband access,” he said. “And you need the human infrastructure ¬– you’ve got to have workers … and good training.”

The third factor is a civic infrastructure. “The third thing is the most overlooked,” he said. “You’ve got to have strong local leaders; strong, local institutions; citizens who are engaged … and who have a mindset of pride and optimism.”

Sumners outlined seven essential building blocks that contribute to those three factors:

• Physical infrastructure: “In addition to the roads and structure, you need a product, you need things being developed in your community,” he said.

• Workforce excellence: “More and more these days, this is becoming job No. 1,” he said. “And without fail, the biggest issue in communities is workforce development.” He cited a shift from an agricultural and manufacturing job base to an economy built on technology and information. “In 1950, 60 percent of the jobs (in Alabama) were unskilled,” he said. “But in 2000, only 15 percent of the jobs were unskilled.” Now, he said, the jobs that remain in the state require “a much higher level of skill and knowledge.”

• Civic engagement: “You’ve got to have citizens and people in your community saying ‘I have to be involved,’” he said. Citing a 2006 rural roundtable discussion, Sumners said that leadership and citizen participation ranked first among the three major issues facing rural communities.

• Stakeholder connections: “You need to have your key stakeholders talking together, getting people on the same page,” Sumner said.

• Organization, planning and action: “You need somebody whose job it is to think about what we need to do,” he said. “It’s also important to have a (strategic) plan: the benefits are twofold, the product which gives you a roadmap and the process itself.”

• Diverse strategies: “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” he said. “Everybody has their own unique sense of assets and challenges.”

• And, finally, hard work and persistence. “All the things we’re talking about are not really easy to do,” Sumners said.