HALEYVILLE - The city of Haleyville, known the past 51 years as the Home of 9-1-1, is now known as the home of the first ever Rural Workforce Outreach Event being planned by state officials with an emphasis on economic development in rural Alabama.
The newly created Alabama Office of Rural Development, thanks to a partnership between local and state agencies, chose the city of Haleyville as the pilot site of a Rural Workforce Outreach Event, seeking to bridge the gaps between business, industry and community in more rural areas of the state.
Eddie Martin, Regional Workforce Council liaison for the Alabama Department of Commerce, was joined by Brenda Tuck, rural development manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce.
In fact, Tuck is leading economic developer for 40 counties in rural Alabama along with other state agencies and organizations.
These entities met with local and state leaders at the Haleyville City Hall courtroom, where presentations were made by state entities such as Alabama Office of Apprenticeship, Industrial Training Institute, Technology Network, Existing Industry Training Program, Incumbent Worker Training Program, On the Job Training, Ready to Work, Work Based Learning and Department of Rehabilitation Service.
The Rural Workforce Outreach Event focused on the rural counties of Winston, Marion, Franklin and Lawrence counties, which are among the 13 counties in Region 1.
These are the four counties within the 13 county workforce region 1 which have 50,000 population or less within each county, officials at the meeting said.
There are 40 total counties in the state that have a population of 50,000 or less, they added.
“What we hope is that the economic developers and businesses and industries, specifically in this four county district of Region 1, their eyes are opened to the wide array of services and resources available to businesses and industry, to help offset the cost of training and upscaling either their new hires or their existing employee base,” Martin pointed out.
The outreach event at Haleyville was specifically an outgrowth of the new Alabama Office of Rural Development, which has the task of providing economic support and development sources for counties in Alabama that have fewer than 50,000, Martin added.
The first Rural Outreach event came about due to efforts of Keith Jones, director of the Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments, in contacting Tuck.
Tuck and Martin, being former teammates on the Department of Commerce liaison team, coordinated the meeting to be located in Haleyville in northwest Alabama.
“It was a way of getting four of those counties at one time,” said Martin, referring to Winston, Marion, Franklin and Lawrence.
“We’re hoping maybe this type of thing can be replicated throughout the state,” he pointed out. “I already feel like people who have attended, the wheels are already turning and...people have seen the benefits of attending.”
Format of the Outreach Event was speakers from the different entities presented to business and industry leaders incentives on training their workforce in order to be more productive citizens, thus having a positive impact on the economic development of the community.
In fact, the City Hall courtroom was filled to capacity with these leaders allowing the program to go throughout midmorning into the early afternoon, complete with a catered lunch.
Tuck was hired for rural development manager Aug. 1, after a move the state legislature to focus more on rural communities.
Governor Kay Ivey, being from Camden, understood the needs in rural Alabama and supported the initiative, Tuck related.
“We have some communities that need some assistance,” Tuck stated. “The focus from the legislature, the governor came down through our Department of Commerce, and they were able to put this position together.”
Tuck has traveled around the state meeting with economic developers in more rural areas of the state.
“One of the first things that was stated no matter where I went, it was the top in all four of these counties here, was workforce development,” Tuck pointed out.
“We understand it is critical right now with our unemployment rate and our employment rate,” she added. “When we are getting people into the workplace, do they have the skills? Do they need to be trained? A lot of things need to happen still.”
One of the key issues, Tuck continued, was where to find these workers as well as the needs of companies, once employees are hired but maybe need additional training.
These companies need to know what resources are out there to help better train those workers to be more productive employees, as well as where the sources of finances are to help offset those training costs.
For example, the Ready to Work program is administered through local colleges, which are providing classes in partnership with business or industry, to help train employees, Tuck explained.
Also the AIDT works with expanding businesses already in place.
Jones of NACOLG has also talked to officials, finding that workforce development is on the top of everyone’s lists.
“It’s very important, because so many times the rural companies are unaware of what’s available out there, the resources to help or assist them as they want growth in business,” Jones said.
Ken Sunseri, mayor of the host city of the Rural Outreach event, agreed it was extremely important to know and share available resources and know all of the opportunities available to them.
Sunseri noted this was key in businesses and industries in hiring, training and retaining employees.
“What we’re doing today is bringing everyone up to date on all of the different programs available,“ Mayor Sunseri said.
“We’re proud to have Brenda Tuck, a newly appointed rural development director from Department of Commerce,” Sunseri added.
“We are being recognized and again this is the first meeting they have had, and they have had it in Haleyville,” he pointed out.
“It’s important we have all the officials here that can benefit our local industries,” Sunseri said.
Winston County Commission Chairman Roger Hayes is also proud rural Alabama is now at the forefront.
“We have some new legislators that ran, and the governor ran, on rural Alabama,” Hayes noted.
“This is a sign of what they are doing. They are trying to include rural Alabama. (This program) is the first one in Alabama.”
State Representative Tracy Estes, who attended the outreach meeting, has been on board when it comes to seeking economic development for rural Alabama.
“The most important thing was the action the legislature took in the last session to create this new rural development department in the Department of Commerce,” Estes said.
“Ms. Tuck being here today is the first step in that direction...I have said for a long time we can do most anything here in rural Alabama...but it’s making sure that the right people know where we are and what we have to offer,” Estes continued.
David Roberson, president of the Industrial Development of Authority of Winston County, noted the biggest thing in rural Alabama is the need to build a solid workforce for businesses here.
“That is what the workforce council, some of these resource opportunities do, is help us find training resources, help us find recruitment resources and develop the workforce, because that is the backbone of the economy for all of these areas,” Roberson stated.
“What we’re seeing now is that we’re seeing wages grow. We’re seeing guys get competitive,” Roberson said. “These larger metropolitan areas that have had big auto companies and have pulled all of our people away, in order to compete, we have to do things differently.”
Mike Evans, president of the Haleyville Area Chamber of Commerce, is proud an investment is being made in rural Alabama.
“Our mayor and obviously our city and our Chamber of Commerce are very interested in not only creating jobs but retaining the jobs we have,” Evans said.
“They are looking to create these jobs in smaller companies and communities like ours, where companies can create two or three jobs across the state of Alabama,” Evans added.
“It is very important for rural Alabama to be recognized and we’re very grateful to have the folks now in place to bring the opportunities that are out there to light,” noted Melinda Weaver, business office manager for Alabama Power.
Other counties in Region 1 include Lauderdale, Colbert, Limestone, Cullman, Morgan, Madison, Marshall, Jackson and DeKalb.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.