The findings of a year-long study of the Shoals by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) will provide fodder for conversation for months to come.

The high points of the study made for an interesting public presentation a week ago today, but it’s the overriding emphasis of the 70-page print version of the study that merits the attention of everyone who calls the Shoals their home.

“The Shoals is again at a moment of unparalleled opportunity,” the study notes in its opening summary, “but it is one that will require cross-community cooperation to capitalize on.”

Cross-community cooperation has always been a challenge for the Shoals area. The split allegiances have been fostered by the Tennessee River – a natural dividing line separating Florence from the other three cities that comprise what was once called the “Quad Cities.” Community-based loyalties are still a challenge, but steps have been taken in some key areas, such as economic development and collective investments in K-12 education.

More needs to be done, the PARCA study suggests, because “in a mobile and global economy, adjacent cities and counties are not competing against one another for prosperity.” The competitors are more populated metropolitan areas like Huntsville, Birmingham, and Nashville, Tennessee.

“Successful communities recognize that fortunes are shared across municipal and county boundaries,” wrote the authors of the PARCA study. “They work across those lines to pursue common goals and address problems. … communities that engage in counterproductive competition between local communities, put themselves at a disadvantage.”

It’s that disadvantage that the Committee for a Greater Shoals wants to eliminate. To overcome it, community, civic and social leaders, as well as members of the general public, must be willing to put past differences aside and “work collaboratively and systematically” to build on the distinctive strengths of the Shoals while addressing the weaknesses that have created roadblocks to a better future.

PARCA’s report doesn’t mince words when it talks about how this can be accomplished.

“To advance together, the Shoals needs to continue to pool its resources to make smart large-scale investments no one community can make on its own,” the Executive Summary concludes. “It needs to prioritize addressing inequities that municipal boundaries tend to produce, especially in educational opportunity. And it needs to invest energy into cooperative structures that can drive toward regional consensus and regional achievement of goals.”

Those are words that every player involved in this “Pathway” project should post and review daily as a constant reminder that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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