Letters to the Community

Get Involved and Get Educated

I have never had an interest in government and politics until this past year. After I experienced how vile it can be, I decided I can either wallow in my disgust or educate myself and try to be a proponent for change and help. The following is the result of various conversations.

Hazel Green has a page on Facebook (much like the city) but it is run by a real estate person. They post not only community projects and schools, local storms/power outages, etc. but also about local businesses. Anything small to large!

They often have a Monday Business spotlight where they focus on local businesses and what they offer. This is a free service. Many people go to this page as it is a “one-stop shop” and people can get all the information they want there…..makes sense, huh?

And guess what?!?! It was started by a high school student. The real estate agent took the page over when the student moved. She posts information about her properties occasionally and when other agents ask, she will occasionally post for them.

When asked what are a few things that may be contributing to growth in Hazel Green she stated the fact that being unincorporated has some perks and their very low tax rate (5.5 percent) DEFINITELY helps. She then referred me to Commissioner Roger Jones.

I put a call into the office of the commissioner (Roger Jones, again they are unincorporated so no alderman, mayor, etc.) and I spoke to an assistant first before getting a callback. She confirmed that Hazel Green is the fastest growing community in Alabama and it was Madison. She felt the fact that they were unincorporated was beneficial and that the low tax rates were huge incentives. She pointed out the fact that you can look in the Walmart parking lot there and half of the car tags are from Tennessee. She also pointed out that the Walmart there is doing such a good job with management that they have an educational center for training there.

Roger Jones was kind enough to call me back. He said he was very supportive of our community and had worked with our county mayor and highway director multiple times. He stated that collaboration was key to growth. That you have to have a lot of “we’s” and not a lot of “I’s” to be successful as a community. That communities have to work together.

I asked him specifically to tell me a few things that he felt had contributed to growth in their community. He cited the following:

  • Site work (helping companies with things like entrances off high ways, turn lanes, improving roads, etc.)
  • Work at the local airport for companies coming in i.e. extending lane, drainage work, additional parking.
  • Working together within the community and surrounding communities.
  • Networking (He said he had seen our representatives at multiple events.)

I asked him if they had a lot of community involvement and he said yes. People are glad to support growth. He also commented that his community and Huntsville have a very educated workforce full of people used to work and working hard.

I asked if they offered incentives to industry. He said yes and referred me to another person that could give more specifics to that as they are set up differently than our community. I believe the incentives are called TIF incentives?

He was very helpful, kind and dedicated to his community and working closely with others that would help them continue to grow. What an asset to Hazel Green and possibly us!

I called the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and talked to them about growth and tips for success. They spoke with me in length and then referred me to the Sevier County Economic Development Board who was very knowledgeable.

Here are some key points from the Chamber:

In the 1960’s a group of business people who were pillars of the community formed a board to recruit retail and industry. This board developed into the current Chamber of Commerce. Change started with a small group of motivated and innovative businessmen.

He stated that there were several things that contributed to their success:

  • Several Industrial Parks
  • Shopping
  • Tourism
  • Lots of educational opportunities (community college and satellite colleges)
  • Flea Markets Malls

He said that they have embraced the hometown atmosphere. That they have lots of things to do recreationally for youth outside including a very nice recreation center, multiple parks, greenways and a bowling alley.

He said that the chamber also has a main st. director, who works closely together on projects. The largest project underway now is the revitalization of their downtown area as they see the importance of that and it being a draw for tourism.

He said that all the communities work very close together to accommodate retail and industry looking to locate to the region. “What we cannot offer, someone else may can. We steer them into that direction.”

I then spoke to a representative from the economic development board and talked to her about our demographics, needed to grow, etc. and asked for suggestions.

She stated multiple times that her board represented the city and the three surrounding counties. They worked closely together to recruit industry and retail. I counted at least 5 times during our conversation where she said to facilitate development you had to have the counties and city working together, lead by a group of innovative leaders who wanted change and development. If you didn’t have that on your board, you weren’t going to grow and you needed to get rid of those people.

She said that the local counties and city had departmental meetings monthly discussing how they could work together – how they could collaborate to better the community as a whole. Everyone shared the same vision. If you grow, we grow and everyone wins.

She said their job was to recruit retail and industry to the area. To do that, she needs to eliminate as much red tape as possible for the incoming investors. We need to make it as easy as possible for companies to come here. she used this analogy – if they worked for six months on getting a company to come to their area and then they went before the board and were voted down, they sure wouldn’t put that time and effort into doing that type of recruiting again. It also speaks negatively to future investors.

She said they did offer tax incentives to industrial companies. For example, no taxes for the first 2 years, then the 3rd year they pay 20 %, then the next year 30 %….so on and so forth. Those are evidently called PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs. She also noted that their property taxes were very, very low.

She stated that they had also invested in an industrial park but theirs was very slow to fill as well. That’s normal.

Let me squirrel here, For kicks I looked up the data on Hazel Green, Fayetteville and Sevierville and household income for all communities was similar! $33k to $40K.

I asked what were some things they did annually to recruit. She said she actually knew where Fayetteville was located because she had seen Huntsville at a retailer and development show that they attend.

Basically, towns setup at this show and investors look at each town’s booth and discuss what the town has to offer. She said the counties and city split the cost of this booth and the cost of the people that go to represent the town, run the booth, etc. She said each year they make their investment back because a company always invest! This is called the RECON show and to participate you have to be an ICSC member.

She suggested our community trying to participate with Huntsville. I would think this is something the county and city could do with Hazel Green since a great relationship is already budding there!

So, this is what I have garnered from my correspondence, for what it is worth:

We are kind of on the right track. We have lots of things in place already to make us successful. We have to get the ball rolling to achieve success and share the same vision as a community.

We need for the county and the city to work closely together on networking. Department heads need to collaborate. TEAMS – no I but instead WE!

Alderman that are not in it to win it, that aren’t for growth, need to go! If they are constantly spouting I, over and over and not WE, then.they’re not part of the TEAM. If they are voting down what our industrial board brings to them, we need to heavily look at that and ask why.

County and City need to form a joint VISION for the community as a whole and I am seeing that happen.

We need more community support and involvement. We cannot only complain. We have to bring solutions and help.

Do we need less government? We have too many hands in the cookie jars. ( I did not say metro, so don’t poop your pants!) Look at how many commissioners Alabama has vs our small town.

Invest in recruitment opportunities outside of our region. Trade shows for the community to recruit retail. Couldn’t Leadership Lincoln and business interns help with this for experience to offset costs?

Invest in recreation, greenways and downtown. Use what we got!

Keep taxes down.

Create educational opportunities for local aspiring entrepreneurs. Free workshops and seminars. We have so many assets here. I am sure we have some retired teachers that could help with grant writing for our community in this aspect

And I would like to see more help for our people of color. Drive through town. How many businesses are represented by African Americans? Why? How can we change this and better represent this demographic?

Have alderman participate in more in-depth workshops about growing our community. Yes, it costs money. But you have to spend money to make money.

Get involved, get educated. Do not vote for candidates simply because your mom knew them.

TEAM FAYETTEVILLE/LINCOLN COUNTY TOGETHER WE ARE IN IT TO WIN IT. Bring the community together, destroy the divide. We can be separate but still stand together as one.

What it really boils down to is citizens becoming more vested, direct and open communication with commissioners and mayors, and recruitment of industry.

All hands on deck LC. Let’s make the next generation bright. WE HAVE to be a part of the change we want to see.

– Jennie from Fayetteville

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