Public presentation of program set for next Tuesday, Feb. 19
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore officials announced this week that the city is one of six in the country awarded grants to fund a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored technical assistance program.
The city will partner with representatives of Smart Growth America for a two-day event that includes interviews with a cross-section of the community’s economic-related entities, as well as a public meeting to discuss the program’s details.
“This does some things we’re excited about, something that I don’t think has ever occurred here during my 60 years of living here,” said local businessman Jerry Gehman, who described himself as a non-paid city promoter. “This is my hometown, anything we can do to help us not have cold spots, empty buildings, to create vitality, I want to be part of that. This being a first for Atmore, and one of just six in the country, I’m very happy about that.”
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 19, John Robert Smith, senior policy advisor for Smart Growth America and former mayor of Meridian Miss., will lead an introductory public presentation on planning for the community’s economic and fiscal sustainability. The presentation will take place at Escambia County High School’s Hodnette Auditorium.
“It’s worth people’s time, if they are interested in our economic future, to be a part of this,” Gehman said. “I would love to have 150 to 200 people there. We need as many people who are interested in our economic future to participate. We’re trying to put a local footprint on everything we do.”
Smith and two of his staff members will conduct a walking and driving tour of the area prior to the public meeting and will conduct 30-minute interviews with representatives from healthcare, retail, industry and education, along with community leaders of Atmore and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
The daylong workshop will take place on Wednesday, February 20, at Atmore Public Library and will include an “economic and health analysis of projects we’re either doing now, have done in the past or plan to do in the future, to see if they make sense fiscally,” he added.
“They will hold an in-depth, working workshop, take a critical look at who we are and how can move forward for economic vitality to see if what we’re doing makes sense,” Gehman said. “They’ll be seeing us just like we are, with no sugar coating, while they’re here.”
Smith said the community should be proud to have been chosen for participation in the project.
“Receiving this workshop is a testament to Atmore’s forward thinking and visionary leadership,” he said in a press release. “Atmore should be very proud to be included as one of just six communities across the country participating in the program. We’re excited to help them examine their economic and fiscal choices to make sound decision for the future.”
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff said the city expects the workshop to produce gains that will carry well into the future.
“This is a first for Atmore, and I am excited about the long-term benefits we will receive from the workshop,” Staff said. “I encourage our citizens to participate in the community meeting and learn how this effort will help us grow in both short-term and long-term projects.”
The program is funded through a Rural Community Development Initiative Grant that was awarded to Smart Growth America by the USDA’s Office of Rural Development. Its aim is to “develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place.”
Gehman said he and city officials don’t want to let any opportunity for sustainable growth slide by.
“I’m surprised we got it; I’m happy we have it, and I want us to take advantage of every opportunity it affords the city,” he said. “It gives us a road map to grow our community and use every asset we can — from the city, the tribe and Washington — to help us move our town forward.”