Washington County CFSA Forum
The Mathews Center facilitated the sixth in a series of follow-up forums sponsored by the Community Foundation of South Alabama (CFSA) on October 18 in Washington County. The follow-up forums are focused on identifying community-based assets connected to economic development in eight south Alabama counties (Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington). A handful of Washington County residents gathered in the Washington County Public Library in Chatom 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 in the eight-county region. The current forum series provides a follow-up opportunity for south Alabamians 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.
Alvertha Penny, CFSA president and CEO, opened the Washington County forum with a word of welcome and an introduction of the Community Foundation of South Alabama. CFSA Senior Program Officer Danny Patterson then provided a number of strategic facts related to economic and workforce development in Washington County.
After a brief introduction of the Mathews Center and the goals of the forum, DMC Executive Director Chris McCauley transitioned the group into deliberation by asking them to think through how they would define economic development/prosperity in their county. The participants then broke into two smaller groups to identify ONE economic development asset that will provide the county with opportunities for creative, collaborative partnerships for immediate and future action. McCauley and Cristin Foster (DMC Assistant Program Director) moderated the small-group conversations.
The facilitators asked the small-group participants to think through one economic development asset in Washington County that had not reached its full potential yet. After identifying their assets, citizens were asked to discuss actions the community could take to realize the asset’s potential, while also considering the potential challenges, costs, and consequences. Both small groups identified a range of assets: the Chamber of Commerce, the Library, historic tourism, parks, proximity to employers, and natural resources.
During small-group deliberations, one group focused on various assets to stimulate tourism in Washington County using the Chamber of Commerce as a countywide “binding agent” to coordinate and promote the county to tourists. The second group identified proximity to employers and jobs as an asset to further capitalize on by partnering with the career center and using the library as a workforce hub. Potential challenges for both assets included locating funding, overcoming territorial attitudes around the county, and the large geographic size of Washington County.
After finding common ground around one economic development asset during small-group deliberations, the group reconvened as a whole to present their assets to each other. After the group discussed each asset, Alvertha Penny closed the forum by promising the participants that the Community Foundation of South Alabama would return in 2013 to talk through potential opportunities for collaboration to help these assets reach their full potential.
The Mathews Center would like to thank Jessica Ross, Director of the Washington County Public Library, for convening the forum. And, of course, many thanks to the Washington County residents who enthusiastically engaged in the evening’s deliberation!
- Cristin Foster (DMC Assistant Program Director)