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Crystal ball outlook is rosy

Inspired by a meeting of the city's comprehensive planning committee and wanting, still, to take advantage of my standing as a na¨ve newcomer to town, let me ask you to gaze into a crystal ball with me.

The Greenville, Alabama of the future, one of 19 Greenvilles in the country, continues to grow, not just in perception, but reality. Its population approaches 10,000. Its sales tax exceeds $7 million annually.

That's because Mayor Dexter McLendon, County Commission chair Jesse McWilliams, economic director Ricky McLaney, city and county leaders, chamber officials and dozens of supporters have been successful in maximizing our location on always-busy Interstate 65 and attracting another Tier One support industry.

The new plant adds 500 quality jobs to the local employment rolls, providing challenging and rewarding work in exchange for competitive wages and sound benefits. And its success, thanks to a strong work ethic and an available talent pool, will likely encourage other, similar companies to take close looks at doing the same.

Those jobs have been filled locally because of a coalition of Butler County public schools, Fort Dale Academy and Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, headed by folks like Mike Looney, David Brantley and Gale Slagley, Dr. Ed Meadows, Dr. Jim Krudop and Dr. Jean Thompson. Their collective efforts recognized the importance of linking classroom work and practical experience with workforce development and creative thinking. Together, working with officials of the new industry, they drafted a job-specific curriculum based on skills necessary to succeed at the new company.

That means some recent graduates of all area high schools and the college branch are able to stay home.

It also places a higher premium on local education efforts - private and public — that buoyed by new facilities, encourages parents to take more active roles in their children's work.

Interestingly, administrators, teachers, students, parents and the community all benefit. ACT scores soar. Reading and math programs flourish. The dropout rate plummets. Scholarships increase. And there is a distinct pride as both public and private schools are rated among the state's best.

That the football teams do well doesn't hurt. All teams win more than eight games and each, supported enthusiastically by their fans, makes it to the playoffs. The new municipal stadium is a jewel.

There is more good news.

The new industry adds to our population. That causes developers to start building and a variety of apartments, garden homes and houses, all reasonably priced, make relocation easier for the newcomers. Realtors, of course, love it, quickly renting and selling virtually every spec unit.

You know what that means.

The red clay surrounding our theater complex turns Robert Bishop's vision into concrete pads which become sites for large and small stores, each adding a layer of customer convenience that make it unnecessary to shop out of town, to waste expensive gas on trips to Montgomery, Mobile and points beyond.

Motels expand, enjoying high occupancy rates as golfers, travelers and business folks continue to use the area as a hub for revenue-producing roles. The new service road west of the interstate attracts new businesses and traffic on the ever-widening bypass slows because of new stores and service centers there.

Commuter planes fly regularly out of Mac Crenshaw Memorial Airport.

All add important sales tax to city and county coffers.

The additional monies provide the necessary funding to improve streets, increase water access, improve our schools, address often forgotten infrastructure issues and open new corridors.

One provides better access to the central business district and, coupled with a marketing plan that makes Exit 130 a household word throughout the region, creates an elegant tour past stately historic homes into a lively downtown district that rivals the likes of Fairhope or Franklin, Tenn.

A marvelous and fully refurbished Ritz Theater pleases Miss Bobbie Gamble and continues to command attention with weekly events, many linked to the well-manicured Confederate Park, which often is host to exciting arts and music festivals for all ages.

The city embraces a development fund that matches property owners with new storekeepers, paying half a fair month's rent for all who invest a year into special projects. The plan works, filling empty buildings and drawing antique stores, coffee shops, boutiques and specialty stores that cause sidewalks to crowd with curious shoppers who make Main Street director Nancy Idland and entrepreneur Jan Newton smile and cash registers ring.

Residents of popular loft apartments create downtown energy and activity. Business leaders gather for happy hour conversation and cocktails. A fashionable white tablecloth restaurant caters to local patrons and attracts Montgomery diners as well.

Even the few empty stores add to the atmosphere, their windows filled with displays promoting attributes of the city, their flower boxes sharing bright colors, their owners' parking concerns a welcome change.

The annual pilgrimage of homes draws consistent crowds and heavy praise. Tours of historic churches like St. Thomas Episcopal, First United Methodist, St. Elizabeth Catholic and First Presbyterian make statewide &#8220must see” lists and full Sunday sanctuaries of thankful people hear messages of hope from gifted men like the Rev. Jeff Hamm, the Rev. Dric Williford and Father Fred Lindstrom.

Chief Lonzo Ingram and Sheriff Kenny Harden keep crime rates low. Amanda Phillips' overcrowded YMCA moves into its modern, new facility. Civic and service clubs add members and missions. The medical community expands and Bobby Ginn's hospital increases beds and services.

Word spreads. Many who left, come home to raise their families. The city's reputation for quality of life grows. Retirees settle in. A new company chooses Greenville. The cycle repeats. And good becomes better.

It's a crystal ball look, to be certain. It's dreams over reality. But it doesn't have to be. Committed leaders and trusting followers, all willing to work on a unified plan with specific goals, achievable priorities and a reasonable timeline, can make it all happen.

Right here. In Greenville, Alabama.

Ed Darling is president and publisher of Greenville Newspapers LLC. He can be reached at 382-3111 or ed.darling@greenvilleadvocate.com.