FLORENCE — Organizers of the Greater Shoals movement want to make some things clear about this morning's gathering.

It's not the concluding one. It's not the end of the process. It's not the grand finale.

"What we're saying is this is just the beginning," said Bank Independent President Macke Mauldin, who is among the four-member steering committee for the movement.

The gathering is at 7:30 a.m. at Sweetwater Depot, 502 S. Royal Ave., Florence. It is open to the public.

The Greater Shoals movement started with a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) report that was revealed during a Feb. 21 gathering, which included a participation survey.

Some 120 people took a survey as part of the February gathering. Among results: 97 percent said the Shoals should have a comprehensive strategic plan for tourism, and 95 percent see fragmentation as the largest hindrance in quality, positive growth for the Shoals.

In addition, 90 percent favor expanding the scope of the Shoals Economic Development Fund, and 95 percent want to explore ways to merge and/or consolidate government entities and services.

Also, only 13 percent believe the Shoals is doing enough to combat poverty and promote equal opportunity.

Six working groups were formed after the meeting — 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 group has met three times and presented recommendations based on those meetings. Those will be summarized this morning.

The steering committee, which includes 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," met Monday to finalize plans for today's meeting. They said the report later will be available online.

"This whole process has shown there's a pent-up demand from the community to come forward and speak its mind," Mauldin said. "Attendance at the original gathering and during the 18 meets of the working groups showed there's a tremendous amount of interest in making the Shoals a great place to live and work."

Potts said today's meeting is the next step, but far from the final one. It is more of a launch.

"These ideas will go nowhere unless the people of the Shoals support them and can convince our elected officials that this selfless approach to considering these ideas is what we need," he said. "We've got to march toward getting ourselves in shape to deal with the new economy and the new world that we find ourselves in."

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


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