FLORENCE — The Greater Shoals organization presented a list Tuesday of 18 proposals that they gleaned from a series of community meetings.

The group also heard from those attending the gathering, who expressed via a cellphone survey that they would like a more bold approach toward proposals.

The proposals covered a variety of items that included enhancing broadband coverage, expanding an existing economic development fund, better cooperation and possibly even consolidation of governmental services, tourism agencies working together, and the community seeking approaches to resolve homelessness.

"Now we have the framework for how we're going to make the Shoals a better place to live," said Bank Independent President Macke Mauldin, a member of the steering committee for the Greater Shoals. "Now we have a mandate, so now we need the leadership of the private and public sectors to move toward getting these things done."

Mauldin stressed that Tuesday's meeting signaled a beginning rather than an end to a process that grew from a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) report commissioned by the group.

The report, released in February, recommends building on the successes the area finds when it cooperates, its strong education, and enhancing the area's unique assets.

Some specifics the PARCA report listed include expanding the use of the Shoals Economic Development Fund; retaining the Shoals Economic Development Authority as one unified economic agency; ensuring the Shoals Scholar Dollars program continues; tightening educational and workforce alliances among K-12 schools; Northwest-Shoals Community College and the University of North Alabama; exploring merging tourism agencies; and looking into ways to form more governmental cooperation.

From there, six groups were formed based on issues emphasized in the study. The groups were labeled Developing Hi-Tech Infrastructure, Broadening the Definition of Economic Development, Government Cooperation and Structure, Quality of Life, Unified Tourism, and Workforce Development and Education.

Each met three times and presented individual recommendations that the Greater Shoals group shared Tuesday.

Mauldin, former University of North Alabama President Robert Potts, Shoals Chamber of Commerce President Caitlin Holland, and Alvin Rosenbaum, author of "The Muscle Shoals: First Frontier of These United States," formed the steering committee.

Mauldin told the overflow crowd at Sweetwater Depot the steering committee will review polling from Tuesday's meeting, establish priorities, develop a budget for implementation, and report back to the community in early November.

The cellphone poll generally indicated by approximately a 2-to-1 margin a desire from the community to take more bold steps in all but one of the six areas. An exception was in workforce development. By a 2-1 margin, audience members said the proposed steps in that area were bold enough.

The audience seemed pleased overall with the direction the Greater Shoals movement is taking.

"It's a good summary of the work that has been done," Nancy Gonce said. "We have a good list of opportunities and look forward to moving ahead."

Jim Blasingame said a hi-tech infrastructure is imperative to the group's success.

"We have to focus on the data connectivity," Blasingame said. "That's the mother ship of this thing."

Harold Lewis said the Shoals cannot allow the work of the past four months to become shelved.

"One of the biggest things we need to do is now make sure we act upon it," Lewis said. "I think the momentum is there in this group. I'm thrilled with the recommendation to expand use of the Shoals Economic Development Fund and, of course, with Scholar Dollars."

Sheffield and Tuscumbia particularly have been discussed as cities that can join services and even possibly explore merging.

Sheffield Mayor Ian Sanford and Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood said they have discussed ways to join forces.

"At this point, we're not talking about consolidation, we're talking about collaboration, and then where does it go from there," Underwood said.

"One of the biggest things is if we can all get on the same page with our ordinances that would be big," Sanford added. "We have been talking about this."

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski


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