A month after the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama presented results of a study titled "A Greater Shoals: A Pathway," six committees are looking into the main areas that were discussed.

Four of the six committees have met, and all six eventually will have three separate meetings leading into an overall gathering in June, officials said.

"Our community is not growing from a population standpoint, nor is the labor market growing," said Macke Mauldin, president of the Shoals-based Bank Independent and one of four residents who formed a steering committee for the project. "We've got to improve the possibilities for those looking for jobs and those who are underemployed."

Mauldin stressed, however, that this venture is about more than jobs. It is a way for the community to take control of the Shoals' future and a means to enhance the area's quality of life.

"We've got to take back our community," Mauldin said.

He added that the motivation of anyone involved in the venture should be "the betterment of the whole community, not just for ourselves."

The PARCA study had some surprising findings, including the fact that the Shoals has the highest percentage of workforce-ready high school seniors of any metropolitan statistical area in Alabama.

The study results also stated the Shoals Economic Development Fund is a valuable resource and its purpose should be expanded.

It recommended consolidating or sharing some aspects of government, but not merging all cities into one.

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," join Mauldin on the steering committee.

After PARCA revealed its findings on Feb. 21, groups were formed to discuss these topics: "Broadening the Definition of Economic Development"; "Developing Hi-Tech Infrastructure"; "Government Cooperation and Structure"; "Quality of Life"; "Unified Tourism"; and "Workforce Development and Education."

Members of the community have volunteered to belong to the committees that interest them.

Mauldin said some 120 to 130 people have attended the four meetings held to date. The "Quality of Life" and" Government Cooperation and Structure" committees plan to have their first meetings next week.

Rosenbaum, a senior policy adviser at UNA, facilitates the committee gatherings.

He said the first meeting focuses on problems and priorities for the Shoals. The second will emphasize "SWOT," which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The third focuses on recommendations and follow-ups.

All the groups reconvene at a June 18 meeting to strategize on where to go from here, based on the recommendations and findings.

"We'll come together like we did at the beginning and say, 'Here's the strategy for each of these areas,'" Rosenbaum said.

Mauldin said a variety of suggestions have come from the meetings. He said one group discussed looking at tourism from the notion of the visitor, rather than "what we want to tell them."

Another tourism-related issue involves the desire to have Shoals residents become Shoals tourists, visiting local attractions they never have seen or haven't been to in a while.

The technology group wants the Shoals to have 5G network capacity, and to attract digitally minded people to the area.

The education group likes the idea of the community investing in education and having more of a public-private partnership, Mauldin said. 

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


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