Escambia County CFSA Forum
The Mathews Center facilitated the fifth in a series of follow-up forums sponsored by the Community Foundation of South Alabama (CFSA) on October 16. The follow-up forums are focused on identifying community-based economic development assets in eight south Alabama counties (Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington). Escambia County residents representing economic development, local businesses, the faith community, and education gathered in the historic school building that houses the YMCA and the Atmore Chamber of Commerce to participate in the evening’s deliberation.
Throughout December 2011, the Mathews Center and CFSA moderated forums in six south Alabama counties on prioritizing community concerns. Economic development/prosperity emerged as the issue of greatest concern for the eight-county region. The current forum series provides a follow-up opportunity for citizens to identify economic development assets in each county. At each forum, citizens deliberate on the benefits and costs of each asset and work to identify common ground for immediate and future action.
Simone Washington, Director of Programs for CFSA, opened the Escambia County forum with a word of welcome and a brief introduction of the Community Foundation of South Alabama. CFSA Senior Program Officer Danny Patterson then presented a number of strategic facts related to economic and workforce development in Escambia County.
After a brief introduction of the Mathews Center and the goals of the evening’s deliberation, DMC Executive Director Chris McCauley asked the group to think through what kind of community they want to live in. The group then divided into two smaller groups to identify economic development assets that will provide the county with an immediate opportunity for creative collaboration. McCauley and Dr. Mark Wilson, Director of Civic Learning Initiatives in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University, facilitated the small-group deliberations.
Each group raised several assets related to economic and workforce development in Escambia County, potential actions for each asset, and possible challenges that may be encountered. The groups then weighed the benefits and costs of each asset, sought to discover common ground among the assets, and worked to identify ONE asset to present to the larger group.
One group saw Escambia County’s transportation hub (airport, rail, interstate, access to ports and three large cities) as an asset for immediate, creative collaboration to stimulate economic development. The group suggested marketing strategies, increasing financial investment, and connecting industries to further develop Escambia County’s transportation hub. The second group identified the Atmore downtown storefronts as a cluster of economic development assets providing opportunities for creative collaboration. The group would like to develop a “Windows of Opportunity” project bringing together Leadership Atmore, Youth Leadership, the local High School, and high-school aged local-business interns. The collaborative project will focus on improving Atmore’s downtown through horticulture, architecture, and design projects that give students an opportunity to explore unique career opportunities.
After the two groups presented their assets to each other, the large group worked to identify which asset would provide the county with the best opportunity for creative collaboration leading to immediate action. The participants decided that developing Escambia County’s transportation hub is of primary importance for economic development.
The Mathews Center would like to thank Sheryl Vickery, Executive Director of the Atmore Chamber of Commerce, for convening the forum. And, of course, many thanks to the Escambia County citizens who participated!
- Cristin Foster (DMC Assistant Program Director)