Commerce Department creating special post to assist rural Alabama on development projects

Commerce Department creating special post to assist rural Alabama on development projects
State, local and company officials commemorate the groundbreaking for Wayne Farms' $100 million expansion in Coffee County in December 2017. The Alabama Department of Commerce is boosting its efforts in rural economic development by creating a rural development manager position. (Wayne Farms)

The Alabama Department of Commerce is adding a rural development manager to work with rural communities and counties across the state to enhance their competitiveness in the economic development process and better prepare them for projects.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said he hopes to have the newly created position filled with an experienced professional in coming weeks. See the Rural Development Manager job description.

“While we have had success in facilitating rural economic development, we want to continue to improve and do more to help the state’s rural counties and small towns and cities,” Canfield said.

“This specialist is going to help communities become better equipped to work on job-creating projects while also providing connectivity to Commerce’s project managers and to any other state resource or agency that is needed as part of a team.”

Rep. David Standridge, chairman of the House Rural Caucus, said the creation of a statewide rural development manager position has been a priority of the caucus. He believes the Commerce Department, the state’s lead economic development agency, is the proper home for this specialist.

“Rural Alabama obviously has its challenges as well as its unique opportunities in economic development,” Standridge said. “One problem is that a lot of rural counties and small towns don’t have the resources for an economic development specialist or a professional.

“They need a go-to person who can get them answers and help them navigate the economic development process.”

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, is creating a specialist position to assist rural areas in the economic development process. (Made in Alabama)

‘Catalyst’ for success

The creation of the rural development manager position stems from talks involving Canfield; Standridge; Rep. Randall Shedd, chairman of the House Urban and Rural Development Committee; and the Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA), whose membership numbers 500 professionals. Discussions were also held with state Sen. Bobby Singleton on issues in Alabama’s Black Belt.

“Our goal is to bring rural Alabama up without bringing urban Alabama down,” Shedd said.

According to a job description, the rural development manager will provide technical assistance to rural communities under consideration for economic development projects, as well as provide ongoing assistance and training for rural communities seeking to become more competitive for economic development projects.

“Economic development in rural communities faces specific challenges that are not present in urban or suburban settings, and an advocate for those communities could provide a catalyst for more economic success in those areas,” said Jim Searcy, the EDAA’s executive director.

“Alabama is primarily a rural state, and an effort to grow all parts of Alabama should be applauded. This action by Governor (Kay) Ivey’s administration is an indication of Alabama’s leadership commitment to the entire state. EDAA is committed to moving Alabama forward, and this is another step in achieving that goal.”

Wayne Farms CEO Clint Rivers speaks at a 2017 groundbreaking ceremony for the company’s expansion project in Enterprise. The state Department of Commerce is continuing to escalate its efforts to help Alabama’s rural communities compete for economic development projects. (Hal Yeager / Governor’s Office)

Rural resources

The creation of the first-ever rural development manager position in Commerce’s Business Development Division is another major step in a broader effort to attract new investment and spur job creation in rural areas across the state.

In mid-2015, Alabama began offering enhanced incentives for companies locating qualified projects in rural or “Targeted Counties.” Since then, 16 projects in these counties have received incentives through the provision.

In 2018, four projects in these counties qualified for enhanced support under the Alabama Jobs Act, resulting in $620 million in new capital investment and 600 new jobs, according to Commerce data. Those figures make it the program’s strongest year.

“We’ve been focused on rural development, and that’s why we developed the ‘Targeted County’ approach in the Alabama Jobs Act, which gave us an opportunity to provide our most rural counties with enhanced incentives for attracting projects,” Canfield said.

“But our longer-term commitment has always been to focus more attention and provide additional resources to stimulate rural development. The creation of the rural development manager position will move that effort forward,” he said.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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