FLORENCE – The Committee for a Greater Shoals was formed in 2018 with an eye on growing and improving the Shoals area.

A series of community meetings took place in recent months that included close to 200 interested volunteers from all walks of life.

The meetings were spawned from a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) report released in February, commissioned by the Greater Shoals steering committee. The PARCA report recommended that the Shoals community build on existing areas of cooperation, its strong education base, and enhancing the area’s unique assets.

Some specific recommendations in the PARCA report included expanding the use of the Shoals Economic Development Fund; solidifying the Shoals Scholar Dollars program; broadening educational and workforce alliances between K-12 schools, NWSCC, and UNA; creating more governmental cooperation; and exploring the merging of tourism agencies.

That report helped create six general areas of focus that the Greater Shoals committee members would consider: Digital Infrastructure, Tourism, Workforce Development, Economic Development, Quality of Life, and Governmental Collaboration.

Committees were formed to discuss those areas in detail. Each committee met three times in recent months with solid attendance of between 25 and 40 at each one. Among the general findings by the working groups was that the Shoals is fragmented, the area has more deaths than births, has too many agencies of government, and has a need for updated economic development and tourism marketing plans.

A spokesperson from each committee shared those recommendations through a Powerpoint presentation to a packed room of community leaders and interested parties at the Sweetwater Depot in Florence last week.

Bank Independent President, Macke Mauldin, former University of North Alabama President, Robert Potts, Shoals Chamber of Commerce President, Caitlin Holland, and Alvin Rosenbaum, author of “The Muscle Shoals: First Frontier of These United States,” formed the steering committee.

Mauldin welcomed everyone to last week’s event and gave a brief overview before handing it off to the presenters. He wrapped up the presentation by reminding the gathering that the presentation they just saw and participated in represented a beginning to the process rather than an end.

“We have the framework for how we’re going to make the Shoals a better place to live,” said Mauldin. “We have a mandate, so now we need the leadership of the private and public sectors to move toward getting these things done.”

Mauldin closed by saying the steering committee will review polling from the meeting, establish priorities, develop a budget for implementation, and report back to the community in early November.

DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURE

Develop a digital infrastructure in the Greater Shoals in order to become one of the best-connected communities of our size in the USA.

Working Group Findings:

1. Create a new entity as shaped by all the Shoals utility departments to design, finance and implement a modern digital infrastructure throughout the Greater Shoals to take advantage of the significant TVA investment in broadband fiber resources

already installed in the Shoals area.

2. Assure that the implementation, availability, affordability and customer service provided are markedly better than that which is currently available from existing providers.

3. Provide widespread training on uses of the Internet as services continue to migrate to online-only communications.

SUGGESTIONS:

• Develop broadband coverage throughout the Greater Shoals.

• Attract, train, and retain a highly talented digital workforce.

• Provide Incentives to speed the development of highest access to broadband in the Greater Shoals.

• Attract high-tech companies to locate in the Greater Shoals.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The Greater Shoals should be known in the Southeast as the most effective, aggressive and diverse economic development community of its size in the region.

Working Group Findings:

1. Expand and clarify uses for the Shoals Economic

Development Fund.

2. Explore a stronger collaboration among the Generator, Small Business Development Center, and the Shoals Business Incubator to better expand opportunities for small business, to include more effective funding levels.

3. Expand SEDA’s focus on workforce development.

SUGGESTIONS:

• SEDA should develop and implement a 21st Century Economic Development Model for the Greater Shoals.

• Use the Shoals Economic Development Fund and other resources prudently and strategically.

• The SEDF should provide funding support to additional mandated, local organizations that contribute to important economic development to include: Shoals Business Incubator, Shoals Scholar Dollars, and UNA and NWSCC Business and Work Force Development Programs

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

To leverage our well-documented educational successes and to combat poverty, the Greater Shoals education, business and employer communities must more closely cooperate and communicate to meet the needs of our evolving economy

Working Group Findings:

1. Expand Shoals Scholar Dollars support.

2. Marry skills development more closely with labor needs.

3. Increase education and vocational retention and quality

SUGGESTIONS:

• Scholar Dollars leadership should explore and develop ways to expand students’ access to NWSCC and UNA.

• Develop Computer Coding Certificates and/or degrees.

• Develop a retention plan for NWSCC and UNA graduates.

• More closely collaborate all workforce development groups in The Greater Shoals.

• Develop a mentoring program for workers.

• Determine the level and causes of under- employment in The Greater Shoals and then develop programs to address them.

QUALITY OF LIFE

With our planned smart growth, the Greater Shoals must maintain and improve access to our abundant natural and cultural resources. Additionally, we need to work to become a regional model of collaboration to foster poverty alleviation.

Working Group Findings:

1. Develop riverfront beauty, recreational facilities and more public access to the Tennessee River.

2. Encourage and promote cooperation among agencies and organizations concerned with poverty alleviation.

3. Anticipate, recognize and address the possible unintended consequences of actions taken to improve the Greater Shoals and the impact they may have on the Quality of Life.

SUGGESTIONS:

• Mesh local businesses and industries into providing support for all areas to enhance the Quality of Life.

• Develop a Greater Shoals Poverty Council that can work cooperatively with existing programs and create needed new ones to provide assistance and relief for the mentally ill, underemployed, homeless, aging, disabled, and unemployable.

• Promote and educate the Greater Shoals of its natural, recreational, cultural, and historic assets.

UNIFIED TOURISM

Tourism leadership must leverage the Greater Shoals global recognition to boost regional tourism through collaboration with all tourism groups, hotels, restaurants, museums and tourism related entities or attractions

Working Group Findings:

1. Create a single brand for the Greater Shoals.

2. Expand “things to do and buy” and product development.

3. Use data analytics to target generating markets and areas to expand offers.

SUGGESTIONS:

• Eliminate friction and promote cooperation between the two tourism organizations in the Greater Shoals or merge them.

GOVERNMENT COOPERATION

To compete in the new digital economy, we must leverage the cooperative spirit of elected officials to seek every opportunity to combine public services, while at the same time, maintaining names and unique identities of each Greater Shoals Community.

Working Group Findings:

1. Seek to harmonize and recodify ordinances among the four cities.

2. Combine municipal services where efficiencies can be achieved.

3. Move, with dispatch, towards consolidation of adjacent cities and other government entities with a collaborative metro government.

SUGGESTIONS:

• Tuscumbia and Sheffield should develop an immediate plan to share sewer and water plants saving the Greater Shoals taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses and debt.

• Develop a working group for Tuscumbia and Sheffield and other interested entities to seek opportunities for cost savings or consolidation of identical municipal services.