Officials need to take advantage of I-85 expansion

Published 4:08 pm Monday, September 20, 2010

While the expected expansion of Interstate 85 into the Black Belt offers optimism for the future, it’s extremely important for elected officials in the region to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the interstate’s arrival.

Having an interstate system in place doesn’t necessarily guarantee growth. Although all municipalities and counties will benefit in some form or capacity because of the interstate’s presence in the region, the primary component for growth in any community is jobs. The I-85 expansion will bring an incalculable amount of commerce to the region in the form of fast food eateries, convenience stores, and hotels, and while having those businesses located in the Black Belt will generate tax dollars for a cash-starved region, the primary target for our elected officials should be the billion dollar corporations existing outside of Alabama. Industries – like Honda, Hyundai, and Mercedes Benz – and manufacturing plants employing hundreds of people are the foundation for a thriving community. The jobs these businesses generate create a “ripple effect,” with the economic impact felt throughout the area.

Municipalities across the Black Belt should begin preparing now for this promising future. Proximity to the interstate attracts big corporations, but it is just one part of a multi-faceted decision making process. Solid education, recreational opportunities, access to quality healthcare, sufficient housing, and good government is an appealing package.

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Alabama has built a reputation in the international community as a generous state to overseas industries wishing to locate in the United States; a reputation of working together at the state, county and municipal level to create jobs for Alabamians.

In this respect, elected officials and local leaders in the Black Belt already have a distinct advantage.

It’s up to them to use it.