Teamwork breeds economic development success
Bob Francis, Guest Columnist, Chairman, Hartselle Development Board
Change is inevitable and is the only enduring constant throughout life. The same is true for our city.
Established in 1870, our community, stimulated by the railroad, grew as an agricultural trade center. As such, the city continued to grow and prosper into the mid-1950s when it began to assume an urban character with declining dependence on an agricultural trade.
It has been reported that Hartselle is now the 18th fastest growing city in Alabama. This should be no surprise when considering the "live here" attractions. Among these: consistent school rankings near the top in the state; outstanding police and fire protection; low crime rate; strong church influence; excellent medical facilities; relatively low cost of living; and emphasis on parks and recreation.
Deservedly, Hartselle has been named one of "The Best Small Towns in America" and voted one of "The 50 Best Small Southern Towns in America."
Life is good, but a problem has as emerged. Residential growth has exceeded the necessary sustaining retail growth resulting in deficiencies in shopping opportunities. This imbalance began occurring in the early to mid-1990s, resulting in significant business leakage to neighboring municipalities.
Retail-related revenue (sales tax) contributes about 55 percent of the city's total revenue. The second largest contributor at 7 percent is from business licenses, while property taxes yield less than 5 percent. Continued residential growth without commensurate retail growth poses a serious threat to city government being able to provide the high quality services to which we are accustomed and which serve at the core of Hartselle's attractiveness.
Of a more personal nature is the inconvenience to our residents of having to travel elsewhere to shop. All of us should strive to shop Hartselle first, but that is not always possible due to preferences and, in many cases, complete unavailability of merchandise.
Help is on the way. In 1995, studies in revitalization, economic development and transportation were accomplished. In 2002, the Interstate 65 corridor study was completed. With these studies available and upon examining shopping deficiencies, state of preparedness, business recruitment policy and demographic assets, remedial action was formulated.
Paramount to success was teamwork by the principal entities (city government, Hartselle Utilities, and the Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce). In 2002, this teamwork was manifested in the formation of the Hartselle Development Board.
Each of the three entities, as cornerstones of this board, pledged unified teamwork, focus and action. That pledge continues to yield visible accomplishments.
Another very important team member, the Hartselle Beautification Association (HBA), has a longstanding reputation of making our city more aesthetically pleasing. They work extremely hard to provide all residents a sense of pride in the city. Their work presents the first and lasting impression to those interested in locating here, either to establish a residence or a business.
Some actions taken and/or in progress to achieve residential and retail balance are:
It is interesting to note that this structured legislative activity yielded in Fiscal Year 2006 some $1.3 million for widening Highway 36, $500,000 for industrial park infrastructure, $480,000 for downtown streetscape improvements, and $150,000 for airport land acquisition.
All projects are integral to the master plan to improve Hartselle's economy. It is also interesting to note that a U.S. congressional staff member has commented that Hartselle is the best prepared city visiting his congressman's office.
Change has occurred, is occurring and will continue. With vision beyond the horizon and continued good leadership and teamwork, these changes can be remembered with pride.
If Hartselle is to be all it can and should be, we must remain competent, plan well, be decisive, serve with dedication and humility, remain united and engage the changes vital to Hartselle's future.