FLORENCE — The Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments is spearheading a public/private effort to develop a series of videos and other public service announcements stressing the importance of participating in the 2020 U.S. Census.

NACOLG Executive Director Keith Jones said the plan is to roll out the videos and PSAs in October through the "I Count Shoals" promotion that will run through March, prior to Census Day on April 1.

Jones said he's asked the University of North Alabama Communications and Marketing Department to help produce a series of short videos featuring the mayors of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia encouraging participation in the Census.

UNA would work in conjunction with the Phipps Agency, which has been hired by the city of Florence, and Click Synergy, which is working with Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia to produce scripts and additional videos for the promotional effort.

A group that included representatives of the cities, counties, UNA, NACOLG, the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, Big River Broadcasting, WZZA Radio and others met Monday at the chamber office to begin organizing the campaign.

William Scott and Rejetta A. Poole, U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialists based in Montgomery and the Shoals, respectively, said they would help the group provide the public accurate information about the Census.

Scott said groups like this one are important because they have knowledge of the local areas and can provide trusted voices to help the public understand the importance of the Census.

A low participation rate in the Census could result in Alabama losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and impact the amount of federal money that flows into Alabama, including money that funds the Shoals Metropolitan Planning Organization, which provides money for local highway improvement projects.

"We're here to do everything we can to support the Census," said Vince Brewton, dean of the UNA Honors College.

City of Florence Spokeswoman Rachel Koonce said the city has already been preparing for the Census by hiring the Phipps agency. She said the city's efforts will include videos in Spanish, including one with the state's teacher of the Year, Ana Behel, encouraging residents in Spanish to participate.

Ashley Morrow of Click Synergy said it's important to target every facet of the community.

The issue about whether or not a question about U.S. citizenship would be included on the 2020 Census forms caused some concern. Scott said that issue has not been decided, but he would pass on that information when it becomes available.

The concern was the question could deter some residents from participating.

"We are in an area that has a large immigrant population, so it is a major concern for us to be sure that community is counted," Morrow said.

Poole said she is meeting with a priest to discuss how to bring the message to the area's Hispanic population.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in the coming weeks if the question will be included in the Census.

The effort will also include billboard advertising, radio and print public service announcements, as well as videos that will likely appear on various social media platforms.

Scott said the local group is moving in the right direction with its participation campaign.

For the first time ever, residents will be able to fill out a Census form online, through a computer or cellphone, in paper through the mail, or over the telephone.


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