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Economic Development Academy designed to improve municipal economies, opens applications

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Cities and towns across Alabama can now apply to participate in a program designed to train community officials and business leaders on ways to grow their economies.

The Alabama League of Municipalities is working with the Alabama Community College System to launch the Economic Development Academy, which offers tools and resources to local officials of cities large and small.

“It is our goal for the academy to develop intentional programming and identify resources to empower our municipal officials so they can create legacy programs and projects within their cities and towns,” Greg Cochran, executive director of ALM, said on Thursday.

The academy will focus on the role of elected officials in evaluating abatements, legal processes and implications, correctly marketing the community, gauging the community’s expectations and workforce development.

Unlike other economic development programs, the academy is tailored to municipal officials using a team model. Participating communities’ mayor or another designated elected or administrative official and at least two council members are required to participate to form a team of up to five members.

The program takes place over a full year and in order to graduate, participants must conduct an economic vitality survey of their communities, complete a community assessment/ project and attend all sessions.

Neal Wade, who for more than ten years led the state’s economic development efforts as the head of the former Alabama Development Office, has been hired to design the curriculum and conduct the classes.

“The objective is for Alabama communities to be the best they can be and competitive for growth and new revenue,” Wade said. “Setting realistic expectations for each community will be foremost.”

The academy will utilize classroom space and workforce development resources from community colleges.

“The ACCS has recommitted itself to the proposition that we must serve the communities,” ACCS Chancellor Jimmy Baker said. “It isn’t all about transferring credits, it’s not all about someone seeking a degree or certificate, it’s about doing what we can do in the communities in concert with organizations like the League of Municipalities.”

Lawrence Haygood, mayor of Tuskegee and vice president of the ALM, said the academy is adaptable to any size community and is all about improving a communities’ overall standard of living.

“Whatever size of the community, this will be critical in preparing us to bring in economic development into our community,” Haygood said. “It doesn’t happen just by happenstance. We have certain steps we have to go through to make that happen and there are certain things we do and don’t do, and this academy will help us learn that.”

An academy advisory council has also been developed to further reinforce the academy and expand its reach by assisting with training and providing additional resources. The council consists of state and federal government agencies, ACCS presidents, utility partners, League strategic partners, local economic developers and statewide business associations.

“The main thing is that we are developing sustainable changes in these communities and that can only be done if you are inclusive of the entire community and ensure that you’re touching everyone,” Cochran said.

The cost for the programs is $2,500 per community and applications will be accepted from July 29 – Aug. 31 through the league’s website at Applicants will be chosen by mid-September.

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