190410 Committee For A Greater Shoals 3

Macke Mauldin challenged a Greater Shoals work group on Tuesday that more "thinking outside the box" is needed. [MATT MCKEAN/TIMESDAILY]

FLORENCE — Topics that popped up during a Greater Shoals working group meeting Tuesday covered a variety of issues.

Branding, the arts, Shoals Scholar Dollars, and seeking the opinions of young people were among them.

On the surface, they are not the typical topics one would expect to be discussed, considering the working group's focus is on economic development.

However, the issues seemed to fit in well since the complete focus of the group is defined as "Broadening the Definition of Economic Development."

The group seemed to heed the challenge from Macke Mauldin, one of four residents who formed the steering committee for the "A Greater Shoals: A Pathway" project.

Mauldin said the only complaint he has heard about the project is there isn't enough "thinking outside the box."

"I encourage you today to be bold and aggressive and really think outside the box," said Mauldin, the Bank Independent president who joins 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," on the steering committee.

Six work groups formed as a result of a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) study that was released in February. It recommended volunteers take part in groups that focus on specific issues in the Shoals.

Each group is meeting three times with an overall strategy meeting planned for June 18.

Jackie Hendrix started Tuesday's meeting by stressing the importance of unity by quoting Mauldin from a previous meeting: "We need to start fighting with what we have instead of fighting over what we have."

Some 30 residents attended the session, during which they were sectioned into five tables. Each group had 10 minutes to discuss strengths and threats involving the community.

They listed natural resources such as the Tennessee River, education, programs like Shoals Scholar Dollars, the arts, quality of life and having a single economic development agency among strengths.

Weaknesses included fragmentation, the lack of a single brand for the Shoals, the "brain drain" caused by young professionals leaving the area to find good-paying jobs, stagnant population trends, and need for more high-speed broadband service.

James Bobo said Shoals leaders and local governmental entities need to be open to ideas, especially unusual or quirky ones.

"Let's not handcuff the people who are out there trying to make stuff happen," Bobo said.

The Greater Shoals meetings are open to anyone interested in attending and participating, and several residents at Tuesday's meeting commented on the lack of diversity among the group.

"Have y'all ever asked what the young kids want?" Owen Foster asked the group.

Santanu Borah pointed out the desire for diversity among Shoals leadership.

"We want to be seen as a little more than big ol' white boys," Borah said. "We have to be deliberate about it, and we have to seek it out."

The final Broadening the Definition of Economic Development gathering is May 14 at the McKinney Center.

Rosenbaum said that meeting will focus on what the group will present during the June 18 overall gathering.

"Think about what our unique selling structure is in the Shoals, and then find those audiences for that," he said. "Also, how can we develop the data to do the targeting?"

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

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