Senator Bobby Singleton and Representative A. J. McCampbell, who represent Greene County in the Alabama State Legislature held a Town Meeting on August 25 at the Eutaw Activity Center. The purpose of the Town Meeting was to share a report on the past 2021 legislative session and discuss upcoming issues and special sessions expected in the Fall. Representative Ralph Howard, who also represents Greene County was listed on the agenda but did not attend the meeting. About 100 people attended the meeting, many had on Greenetrack T-shirts. Representative McCampbell reported that, “Our Census numbers in Sumter and Greene counties were down from the 2010 Census, which means that the district boundaries may change. Rural areas have their populations shrinking while urban areas are growing.” McCampbell said that the State would be holding public hearings during the first weeks of September to give information about the redistricting process. He said he expected a special legislative session to be held in October or November to set district lines. “The current legislature is controlled 75% by Republicans to 25% for Democrats, which means that the Republicans will be drawing districts to maintain their super-majority and we will do what we can to achieve fair voting districts,” said McCampbell. McCampbell said there was a federal lawsuit against conditions in Alabama prisons which required the Governor and the State Legislature to act to build new prisons and rehabilitate others. Senator Singleton called the conditions in the prisons “inhumane” and said that if the state did not act to invest in new prisons, Federal Judge Myron Thompson might take over administration of the prisons. Singleton said he was pushing for more “drug courts” and “mental health courts” to provide treatment for people rather than incarceration and reduce prison populations. McCambell suggested that some geriatric prisoners should be released to home confinement, since that would be a cheaper way of handling their care, since it was expensive to maintain them in jail, when they were no longer a threat to society. McCampbell indicated that the Governor would likely call a special legislative session on the prison issue once a plan for financing prison expansion and rehabilitation had been developed. Both legislators said that the last session had produced the largest Education Budget of $7.7 billion and the largest General Fund Budget of $3.5 billion in the state’s history. Both warned that the law to holdback third grade students, who do not read at third grade level, is going to be a problem in Black Belt rural school systems. “Especially with COVID-19, so many of our students have lost ground. We have added funds for additional reading teachers in our rural schools but I am not sure that this will be enough,” said Singleton. Senator Singleton said, “I know many of you came to hear about the future of gaming in Greene County but because I have been sued by some of the bingo places in the county, my lawyers advised me not to talk about it. I am sorry that some people are trying to take away my voice in Montgomery, through these lawsuits.” Singleton said there was money for broadband, starting in rural areas and money for rural healthcare, maybe Medicaid Expansion, in the state lottery and gaming bills that were defeated in the last legislative session. He did not go further to address the future status of bingo in Greene County and ways in which the state, which would receive most of the revenues from the statewide plan, would assist Greene County agencies, municipalities and charities, currently receiving funds from the county’s Constitutional Amendment 743. The two legislators discussed other issues in the State Legislature that they had worked on to benefit Greene County residents. Other Greene County officials including Mayor Latasha Johnson of Eutaw, Mayor Charles McAlpine of the Town of Forkland, Phillis Belcher, Executive Director of the Greene County Industrial Development Authority and Dr. Carol P. Zippert, Chair of the Greene County Board of Education gave short reports on the work of their municipalities and county agencies.
The Greene County Industrial Development Authority (GCIDA) held its Annual Business and Industry Appreciation luncheon, last Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at Ruby’s Restaurant in Eutaw.
Phillis Belcher, GCIDA Executive Director said, “We hold this annual event to honor our existing industries and major employers in Greene County. The GCIDA sees its mission as serving existing business to improve their operations and helping to attract and develop new industries and businesses to start operations in our area.”
The crowd of about 40 people heard from two valuable luncheon speakers who brought relevant information on topics of interest to business and community leaders.Scarlet Pearce of the Demopolis Career Center, which is part of the national and state Department of Labor, spoke of opportunities provided by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the nation’s workforce training legislation.
“Employers can seeking on-the-job training support, workforce training positions, apprenticeship opportunities by contacting the Alabama Career Center. We are in Workforce Region 3, which covers much of the Alabama Black Belt area. We have a budget of $6 million dollars annually for workforce development initiatives,” said Pearce.
“People looking for work or education and training to upgrade their work skills should visit the Career Center at 1074 Bailey Drive in Demopolis, Alabama, to get information, advice and assistance in seeking employment,” said Pearce.
Kinya Isaac, regional representative for the 2020 U. S. Census in Greene, Sumter and Pickens counties, spoke about the upcoming U. S. Census to be held 0n April 1, 2020. “We need to be sure to count every single person in the Census. The population count by the Census will determine allocation of many Federal and state resources. The Census will also be used to reapportion voters in Congressional and Legislative Districts for the coming decade. Alabama could possibly loose one of its seven Congressional seats if all the people are not counted in this upcoming Census,” said Isaac.
Issac pointed out that sections of Greene County are shown on the Census map as having an under-count in the 2010 Census. “We need to be sure to count everyone, especially people who live in these areas for the 2020 Census. Any assistance that businesses and industries can provide would help Greene County overall,” said Isaac.
Danny Cooper, Chair of the GCIDA thanked people for attending the luncheon and encouraged them to seek assistance from the GCIDA when they needed help in starting or expanding their businesses. The GCIDA office is located on the Thomas Gilmore Courthouse Square, in a building across from City Hall. The phone number is 205-372-9769.
By John Zippert,
At its regular meeting on Wednesday, September 18, 2019, the Greene County Industrial Development Authority (GCIDA) received a contribution of $1,000 to advance its work in bringing economic development to the county.
Danielle Kimbrough, Alabama Power public relations officer for west Alabama, at Tuscaloosa, said, “We help bring industrial and commercial customers to our area, which in turn brings jobs, tax revenues and improvement in the overall quality of life. Donations to organizations like GCIDA, allow us to help communities have resources to grow their communities.”
Phillis Belcher, Executive Director of the GCIDA said, “We appreciate the support of companies like Alabama Power Company to assist us in our basic mission of bringing development and jobs to Greene County,”
Belcher pointed out that the GCIDA has a 1000 acre Crossroads of America Industrial Park at Boligee, which is served by Interstates 20 and 59, railroads running north and south and east and west to connect to anywhere in the nation and access to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway for barge traffic to the Port of Mobile and inland river parts across the nation.
“We have two major industrial companies, located in our Crossroads Park.
These are EPPCo, a petroleum products distributor that has a Waterway port and West Rock, a paper company, which has a warehouse on the interstate highway. We are always looking for new industries to come and locate in our park or other industrial locations around the county,” said Belcher.
Belcher pointed out that the GCIDA has been instrumental in helping to recruit and support Love’s Truck and Travel Store company, to locate its truck stop at the Interstate 20/59 Exit 40, in Eutaw. GCIDA assisted the City of Eutaw in securing over a million dollars in grant and loan support to bring sewage to the Love’s site and make other site and lighting improvements.
“This commercial development will bring 43 jobs and new tax revenues to Eutaw and Greene County. It also opens up the Exit 40 area for other needed development,” said Danny Cooper, Chairperson of the GCIDA.
At Wednesday’s meeting the board heard from Donnie Wedgeworth, owner of Consolidated Catfish Producers, the catfish processing plant on Highway 43 in Eutaw. Wedgeworth stated his interest in working closely with the IDA in future development of his catfish processing business.
At the meeting the GCIDA discussed various projects and prospects that are considering Greene County. A hemp processing company is interested in lease-purchasing the 50,000 square foot Speculative Building, which stands empty in the Crossroads of America Park. A railroad company is negotiating to store railroad cars on a temporary basis on tracks in the park. Other wood products industry prospects have visited the park in the past year to see if it was suitable and useful for their future plans.
Phillis Belcher said, “We have one great challenge remaining to make our Crossroads of America Park attractive to industrial prospects. We do not have a natural gas pipeline serving our industrial park. We have met with many industrial prospects for whom this was a ‘deal breaker’. We need access to natural gas for industries that need gas heat in their industrial processes.
“We have been working on exploring ways to bring natural gas to our Crossroads Park. The nearest gas sources are 15 to 20 miles away and the cost of constructing a large diameter pipeline to serve our Crossroads Park is estimated in the $15-20 million dollar range. We have asked for help from Spire, the gas company serving our area and our state and Federal public officials. The GCIDA is continuing to work on this challenge.”
The exhibit celebrating Alabama’s Bicentennial (200 years – 1819 to 2019) was officially opened with a reception on Monday afternoon at the Eutaw National Guard Armory. The photo shows Commissioner Allen Turner, Jr. speaking at the opening in front of some of the panels in the exhibit.
The exhibit has eight panels, with interactive computers that explain Alabama history, culture and people over the past two hundred years.
There is a central set of panels about specific people that influenced Alabama history, including two African-Americans, Rosa Parks, civil rights activist from Montgomery and Justice Oscar Adams, lawyer and Supreme Court Justice.
Commissioner Turner in his remarks thanked the state for bringing this exhibit to Greene County. Armand DeKeyser, Executive Director of the Alabama Humanities Foundation also spoke. DeKeyer said, “This exhibit has been traveling around the state since last year. This is the 58th county that it has had this exhibit. The celebration will end with an all day program on December 14, 2019 in Montgomery. The program includes a parade, musical guests and other celebrations.”
“On December 14, we will dedicate a Bicentennial Park across the street from the Capitol where there will be a permanent exhibit to the 200 years,” said DeKeyser.
Phillis Belcher, Chair of the Greene County Bicentennial Committee said, “We welcome all people to visit this exhibit, including school children, so they can better understand this history. The exhibit will be open, until Wednesday, August 28, 2019, and will be curated by community volunteers.”
Phillis Belcher thanked all the county agencies and individuals that helped to make the exhibit available to people in Greene County. She indicated that group’s wishing to help or visit the exhibit may contact her office at 205-372-9769 if they have questions or concerns.
In a three day celebration that included a Grand Ball on Friday, March 8, Community Impact Day, Saturday, March 9 and A Sisterhood Luncheon, Sunday, March 10 at Embassy Suits in Tuscaloosa, the Greene County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority observed its 40th chapter anniversary. The chapter, organized in 1978 currently has an active membership of 32. Isaac N. Atkins serves as chapter president. Nancy Cole served as 40th Anniversary Committee chairperson. Photo above shows the majority of participants at the Sisterhood Luncheon on Sunday, with chapter members and guests. The Greene County DST Chapter sponsored a Community Impact Day, as part of its 40th year celebration, for local residents in appreciation of the support the chapter receives for its projects and programs. Impact Day, held at the Eutaw Activity Center, included service booths, games, food and fellowship. The Sisterhood Luncheon gave tribute to charter members of the chapter and the former chapter presidents. — Photo by Cythina Crawford
Shown L To R: Shirley Ezell, Carolyn Young, Marva Smith, Miriam Leftwich, Tameshia Porter, Isaac Atkins, Phillis Belcher, Johnni Strode Morning, Carol Zippert and Jacqueline Allen
The Greene County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. partnered with the Greene County Department of Human Resources to provide Christmas gifts for a local family of 10 children. The sorority members provided toys, games, books, various electronics as well as clothing for each child in the family. All the gifts were selected in attempts to fulfill the wishes of the children. The various lists of the children’s wishes were provided by the DHR staff.
Mr. Wilson Morgan is Director of the Greene County DHR office.
Mrs. Carolyn Young and Ms. Jackie Allen serve as chairperson and co-chairperson, respectively, of the DST Chapter’s Adopt-A-Family Committee. Mrs. Isaac Atkins serves as Chapter President.
Special to the Democrat by John Zippert,
Senator Doug Jones and Shown L to R: Greene County participants in Summit, Lovie Parks Burrell, Debbie Duncan, John Zippert, Phillis Belcher, Beverly Gordan and Johnny Coleman, Jr.
The University of West Alabama in Livingston held an all day ‘Summit on Rural Technology” on Friday, April 13, 2018. The session was attended by 200 political and community leaders from the Alabama Black Belt and surrounding communities.
The session highlighted the importance of high-speed internet connectivity and digital literacy for economic development, health care, education and quality of life for the future in all communities of Alabama. The session illuminated that not all communities, especially rural communities and the Alabama Black Belt area, were prepared and positioned to equitably access to the ‘broadband highways’ of the future.
In his keynote address, Senator Doug Jones of Alabama said “270,000 people in rural parts of Alabama do not have access to high speed internet and there was a need for equal access and opportunity for all zip codes in the state.
Jones said, “ The state’s economy depends on high-speed broadband and this is a bi-partisan issue which transcends the division between political parties.’ He also said that internet access was a key to ending the ‘homework gap’ between well-heeled urban/suburban school districts and rural areas. “Ending the internet access gap will also improve the availability of healthcare and telehealth capabilities in the rural communities of the state,” stated Jones.
Jones reported that $600 million was appropriated in the latest budget for USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) programs to improve broadband access in rural areas. Senator Jones said his staff would be working to help businesses and communities that wanted to take advantage of these programs.
Dr. Roberto Gallardo of the Purdue University Center for Regional Development gave the opening talk on Rural Development in the Digital Age. He said, “Big data will be the oil of the 21st century. The digital economy has a 6.5% share of the total economy or $1.2 trillion. Rural on-line transactions today are $1.4 trillion annually.”
As an example of the exponential growth of the internet economy, Gallardo said, “Airbnb generates an average of $6,700 in income for its members. In four years, it has grown to offer 600,000 rooms. It took Hilton Hotels 93 years to grow to offer 600.000 rooms!”
Gallardo called young people “digital natives” and said they have grown up with digital skills that the rest of us must catch-up and master as well or we will be left behind in the coming ‘digital economy’.
Gallardo said that the digital future was at least 25 megabits of information down and 3 megabits up. Communities without these capabilities would miss out on the benefits of the coming digital economy. “Digital exclusion may be our gravest problem in the future,” said Gallardo.
C. Wayne Hutchens of Alabama A. T. &T spoke on some of the technical innovations that his company was pursuing and testing to bring high speed internet to more people. He spoke about small cell technology to reduce the need for large-scale towers in congested areas. These small cells could be placed on lampposts, mostly in cities. He also said that AT&T’s Project AirGig was testing ‘inductive coupling’ which was a way of transmitting high-speed internet in conjunction with electrical power lines. “If these trials work then we will have a way to serve more rural communities,” said Hutchens.
The Rural Technology Summit also has a panel of Alabama State Legislators that spoke on state funds that will be available for broadband access in rural areas. There was also a panel featuring Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville and Mayor Gary Fuller of Opelika on ways they were providing broadband to businesses and residents in their municipalities. Fuller explained that Opelika had a municipally owned electric system which had borrowed $43 million in bonds to finance proving high speed internet anywhere in the city limits of Opelika. This system was serving as an incentive to attract businesses of all kinds to the east Alabama city.
At the end of a challenging day of information, Dr. Tina N. Jones of the University of West Alabama said the summit was the beginning of an effort by the university to reach-out and assist rural communities in west Alabama to benefit from the growing digital economy.
Phillis Belcher and Tiffany Gribsy talking to John Laney, Mayor of Demopolis
The Greene County Industrial Development Authority together with the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority and the Marengo County Economic Development Authority sponsored a catfish dinner and barge ride last week to promote waterway transportation as a key element of an industrial and economic development strategy for the area.
Phillis Belcher, Executive Director of the GCIDA, indicated, “Greene County has a thousand acre, Crossroads of America Industrial Park at Boligee, that is served by the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Interstate Highway System, Colonial Pipeline and major railroads. We have one petroleum storage and distribution business in our park, which has a docking and loading facility on the waterway.”
“We supported this dinner and barge trip to promote our industrial park, which has sites for several potential industries, to insure that state and Federal officials as well as private industry representatives are aware of Greene County and other neighboring sites in the Black Belt. Greene County is surrounded by waterways and rivers. The Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway is our eastern boundary; the Black Warrior Tombigbee Waterway borders our county to the west. We also have the Sipsey River, which is not channelized to our north.”
The dinner on Thursday night, May 26, 2017 was held at the Demopolis Civic Center and attended by 100 public officials from Greene, Marengo and Hale counties. Greene County Commissioners Lester “Bop” Brown and Allen Turner attended as well as Mayor McAlpine and City Council members from Forkland. Several GCIDA Board members including: Dr. Warren Burke, Teresa Beeker and John Zippert also attended the dinner.
On Friday morning, a group of 40 people, boarded a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging and maintenance barge, docked in Demopolis for a three hour trip on the river system. The barge, which is generally used to maintain the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, took the group from the dock down river to the Demopolis Lock and then back north to the confluence of the Black Warrior and Tombigbee Rivers and five miles, up the Black Warrior Tombigbee Waterway.
Mitch May, Director of the TTWDA, based in Columbus, Mississippi said his organization was “a four state compact of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky to promote development of industrial and recreational sites along the waterway in cooperation with the state, Federal and local governments, like the Greene County IDA.”
Danny Hensley of the USACoE office in Tuscaloosa, pointed out during the barge ride, “that you can go anywhere East of the Mississippi on the waterway systems; and that the Tennessee Tombigbee and Black Warrior Waterways are a reliable, dependable and cost effective way to ship materials within the U. S. and to international destinations through the Port of Mobile.”
Phillis Belcher, Tiffany Grigsby (Vice Chair) and John Zippert (Secretary) of the Greene County IDA participated in the barge ride.
The barge passed under the Highway 43 Bridge and went past the Demopolis Cement Plant, which relies on barge transportation to ship in raw materials and to ship out its finished products. On the trip the barge met other barges going in both directions, many fishing boats with people enjoying the water and passed many fishing camps nestled along the banks of the river. The barge travels at about 5 to 8 miles an hour depending on currents and load.
“We were not able to take the barge up the Tombigbee to the Crossroads site at Boligee because of the distance. It takes 7 to 8 hours to reach our park by barge from Demopolis. We will plan another trip from the Heflin Lock at Gainesville, on the river to Crossroads some time in the future and invite more Greene County people to experience the values of barge transportation and our location on the waterway,” said Belcher.
The Greene County Commission held a work session on Wednesday, January 4 and its regular meeting on Monday, January 9, 2017.
The Commission appointed John Robert Isley II to the position of Assistant County Engineer to assist Willie Branch, County Engineer. Isley is a native of Springfield, Ohio who attended Alabama A&M University in Normal, Alabama and graduated in 2007 with a B. S. degree in Civil Engineering from A&M.
Isley has eight years experience with private engineering firms including Civil Solutions LLC of Huntsville (now Goodwin, Mills and Caywood), Geo Solutions, LLC and Babbs Engineering Consultants, LLC.
“Greene County is the first public organization that I have worked with but I bring a skill set with similar projects in the private sector,” said Isley. He is not married and plans to live in Greene County.
“ I went to Alabama A & M because I wanted to go to an HBCU which had all the engineering classes that I needed. It was a good choice for me and I urge young people who are interested in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to study hard and you can achieve any goal you set for yourself. Be patient and ask questions, people will help you learn, develop and grow on the job, “said Isley.”
Paula Bird, Chief Financial Officer gave the Commission a financial updated report for the first quarter of the 2016-17 fiscal year from October 1 to December 31, 2016. The Commission had $4.3 million in all bank accounts, plus $681,728 in bond sinking funds and an additional $390,094 and $86,031 in other bond servicing funds. The expenditures are within the 25% range, which is on target with the quarterly budget requirements.
In the General Fund, which covers salaries and expenses for most basic county services, $803,338 (26%) of the $3,143, 228 budget has been expended to December 31, 2016. The Commission approved $445,897 to pay all bills and claims for last month.
The Commission has received bids on the lighting project for the inside and outside of the Eutaw Activity Center. The bids are being evaluated for several factors and no action was taken at this meeting on this project, which is funded by grants.
Willie Branch, County Engineer reported that the solid waste exemption period has ended for persons on fixed incomes to apply for garbage stickers. Garbage will not be picked up unless the garbage can has the appropriate sticker, which has a number that has been assigned by the Solid Waste Department. Stickers are not available from the garbage truck operators but are issued only at the Greene County Engineers office.
Phillis Belcher, Executive Director of the Greene County Industrial Development Authority reported on an anticipated expansion of the WestRock box manufacturing plant in the Eutaw Industrial Park, which is expected to begin in the next six months. She will return to report on more of the details when they are available for action by the Commission.
The Commission requested and heard a report on the work of the Community Services Program of West Alabama which offers services to low income people in the Greene County community including help with utility bills, weatherization of homes, food pantry, Headstart and other programs. The Commission urged CSP of West Alabama to do more outreach and contact new people about its services instead of cycling the same people through each time. Latonji Hamilton who made the presentation for CSP promised to do a better job in the future.
The Commission approved travel for the County Engineer and Assistant County Engineer to attend training and regional meetings.
Probate Judge Judy Spree presented a resolution at the work session from the Alpha Epsilon Iota chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at Shelton State Community College concerning an honors project for Greene County officials to symbolically reaffirm their oath of office and maintain ethical standards of operation. The Commission at the regular meeting tabled the resolution.