The Mathews Center recently finished a What’s Next Alabama? forum series in Grove Hill, Alabama (Clarke County). Participants met at the Grove Hill Senior Center on February 15, March 8, and April 5. Each forum was guided by a question – Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? prompting the over 75 participants to craft a vision for their community by looking back, examining the present, and thinking ahead.
The first forum revealed a deep love of Grove Hill by the community. Participants expressed pride in their local businesses, schools, healthcare, and community organizations. Citizens conveyed a feeling of safety in their town and emphasized their low crime rate and close knit community. As participants noted, Grove Hill is not without challenges. Like many rural communities across Alabama, Grove Hill struggles with a changing economy and the migration of younger generations to larger cities. Ideas for future growth started to emerge, like growing business, improving the town’s website and social media, recruiting a hotel or bed and breakfast, attracting new industry, strengthening the town’s identity, and encouraging more tourists to visit Grove Hill.
The next forum centered around the question where do we want to go? In this forum participants began to focus on a clearer vision for the future of their community. Ideas focused around these themes: communication and marketing, business and economic development, education and workforce development, and community events. One of the biggest challenges, repeated throughout the evening, was in reaching out to the town’s young people to participate in meetings, and in enticing young people to stay in, or move to, Grove Hill.
The final meeting began with updates from town officials. Mayor Jackson was happy to report that the annexation needed to move Grove Hill from a town to a city was approved. Superintendent Bagley announced official plans for the upcoming workforce training site to be located at the old armory. Other speakers announced plans for economic development, updates for community events, suggested areas of focus for the meeting, and encouraged participants to attend other town meetings. After participants had a chance to ask speakers questions, the group broke off into smaller round tables to discuss the four major themes outlined in the last forum.
The small groups focused on action ideas for these areas. The communications and marketing team suggested using the local newspaper, town website, and social media to promote positive news stories in the community, and encouraged other town members to adopt positive attitudes toward new ideas. The events and organizations group advocated working with the Chamber of Commerce to establish more events, raise funds, beautify the town, and assist start up businesses. The education and workforce development team promoted Superintendent Bagley’s training center and proposed a youth ambassador program for the Chamber. Finally, the economic development group recommend a small business focus over large industry recruitment for the town moving forward.
We thank Jim Herod, Cindy Gilmore, Wylynn Phillippi, Tommy Thompson, Worthy Bowen, Shea Skipper, & Suzanne Cox for putting together a marvelous forum series! We’ll be checking back in with this group of active, engaged citizens in the coming months to see how they are moving from talk to action. Stay tuned for updates!
Interested in engaging YOUR community in the “What’s Next, Alabama?” statewide conversation? Contact Justin at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.