Discussions on how best to refine the operational and funding guidelines of the Shoals Economic Development Authority (SEDA) took another step forward on Tuesday when dozens of area business and community leaders met to talk about ways to enhance economic development.
The meeting of one of several planned Greater Shoals Working Groups was a spin-off of a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) study released in February titled “A Greater Shoals: A Pathway.” The study recommended volunteers take part in working groups being formed to discuss key issues in the Shoals.
Those who gathered Tuesday had plenty of ideas, one of which was a byproduct of ongoing talks on changing the way SEDA does its business.
Two of the most mentioned changes in recent weeks have been reducing the size of the 24-member SEDA Board of Directors, and expanding the available uses for the funds SEDA collects.
Almost everyone is in agreement the board has too many members. It’s the funding mechanism of SEDA that is the hotbed of conversation.
The most radical of the suggested changes seeks to dissolve SEDA and replace it with competing economic development agencies in Lauderdale and Colbert counties. Commissioners in both counties have hinted that’s a possibility they’re interested in, but action has been tabled to allow additional ideas.
PARCA in its study suggested dissolving SEDA would be a mistake, and we agree.
After listing a number of economic development success stories SEDA has had since its inception in the late 1980s, the PARCA study emphasized: “All those investments would have been much more difficult or impossible if individual cities and counties had been left to go it alone.”
But the study also cautioned that the fund SEDA draws from should be expanded to include quality-of-life issues. For Colbert County officials, those type issues include helping fund a new county jail, providing broadband internet service in rural areas, building railroad overpasses and a greater emphasis on tourism.
Lauderdale officials have been less specific about why, as Commissioner Joe Hackworth has publicly said, they believe they can “form a better economic development model” and what they’d use the money for.
We’re not convinced the individual counties could do better than SEDA.
While we agree the existing system needs some tweaking, we don’t think it makes good economic sense to break up SEDA and form two economic development agencies.
Doing so would result in duplicative overhead costs; would require economic development specialists and staffs be hired for both counties; and, most importantly, would result in Lauderdale and Colbert counties competing directly against one another to lure new businesses and industries.
Lastly, there’s a hint among talks that action is needed soon so that any proposed changes could be submitted to local legislators in time to file a local bill before the end of the current legislative session, which is projected to end in mid-June.
The primary objective of these efforts should be to craft a plan that will help the Shoals better meet the economic development challenges of the next 30 years, not to rush through the process just to get legislative approval.