Spotlight on Greene, Hale, Marengo & Sumter: Community Development

These four counties and their communities are improving downtown areas, increasing workforce and degree programs and more

The West Alabama Training Center, a project of Wallace Community College Selma and others, houses technical programs.

Greene County

The city of Eutaw, the county seat, recently approved a partnership with the University of Alabama’s Life Research Institute, which aims to improve cardiovascular health for residents.

Greene County schools work closely with Wallace Community College Selma/Demopolis and with local industry, helping students get a head start on college or career.

Hale County

Hale County is anticipating the four-lane West Alabama Highway extension that will run from Moundville to Thomasville, creating economic development opportunities, says Commissioner Don Wallace. The county is also renovating its historic courthouse. The county also wants to develop a light industrial park, he says.

The city of Greensboro, the county seat, is continuing renovations on the city hall entrance to include two walk-up windows for the public to use to pay bills and conduct other city business without having to come inside, officials say. The city also has a new youth baseball league.

Hale County Schools’ College and Career Academy is strengthening the workforce by offering training in several areas, from STEM to industrial maintenance to welding and health sciences. The system also has a career coach.

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Marengo County

In 2023, the city of Demopolis completed its $3.4 million City Landing development, which features a floating dock, more parking and amenities — not only for residents but also to attract major bass fishing events.

Rhae Darsey, director of Main Street Demopolis, says downtown revitalization plans are going well. “We focus a lot on events to get people downtown,” she says. Some of those events include Bark in the Park, Christmas on the River, Fair on the Square, a crawfish boil and much more. The Farmers Market has become very popular, with bluegrass music, vendors and more, she says.

Several new businesses have opened, including a coffee shop and an interior design firm, and food trucks also are attracting people downtown. “We’ve had more than a million in private investment,” she says.

Demopolis is home to a campus of Wallace Community College Selma, and the school, along with other partners, opened the West Alabama Training Center, housing technical programs for the college, in August 2023.

Demopolis is also eagerly awaiting the 2026 opening of the new Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences. State funding for the $62 million residential high school was approved this spring. Whitfield Regional Hospital is a partner on the project.

County and city schools are winning honors and advancing their career development options.

Demopolis City Schools recently was selected as a School of Distinction and named a model school by the International Center for Leadership in Education. It is one of 42 National Schools of Distinction by the National Beta Club, one of seven National Districts of Innovation by Model Schools and is in the top 5 nationally for minority math growth for the past four years as well as the top 2% nationally for academic growth for the past four years for all students, officials say.

The system has added an education and training program for future educators, and an industrial maintenance shop for instruction in several career technical programs.

School facilities also are being upgraded with a resurfaced track, new entryways and added security in all schools, remodeled restrooms and a new gym building at Westside Elementary School.

Marengo County schools operate three preK-12 schools, with about 1,000 students. Marengo County High School has established a plant sciences career tech program, aimed at fostering a community plant nursery business.

The system also has expanded STEM robotics at Sweet Water, Marengo and AL Johnson schools, spanning grades K-12. Each school also will maintain robotics teams, which signifies a commitment to technological literacy and teamwork. AL Johnson and Sweet Water teams, both new this year, both placed in the top five at the University of West Alabama competition.

The district also plans to implement virtual reality instruction district-wide, from virtual job shadowing to hands-on training for career certification exams such as welding, nursing, drone pilots and forklift operation.

In Linden, the county seat, Linden City Schools plans to begin building a new Linden High School this summer next to the football stadium.

University Charter School.

Sumter County

Recently, Sumter County completed a new E911 center financed by a $250,000 CDBG grant, along with county commission funds and funds from the 911 board. It is housed in a former storage space at the county sheriff’s office, which creates more room for dispatchers and equipment.

The Sumter County Commission is working to bring telehealth services to Panola, an unincorporated area of the county that has no doctors within 30 miles, according to Commission Vice Chair Drucilla Russ-Jackson.

Also, La’Shun Wallace, a Sumter County native who retired from the Air Force, came home to York and started a non-profit group for veterans, IV VETS, and developed technical training for job opportunities for veterans and younger students. His organization, Sumter County Skilled Trades, a non-profit, veteran-owned organization, offers programs for adults and students in a former county school building and at his 130-acre ranch. It has support from several industry and education partners, from the University of West Alabama, Auburn University, the University of Alabama and the Auburn Rural Studio. “You are seeing changes here,” he says. “People have said we cannot grow here, but we can.”

The city of Livingston, the county seat and home to the University of West Alabama, works together on workforce and economic development, says Mayor James “Bird” Dial.

The city is working on accommodating the demand in its youth sports programs and is working to get an ambulance service, he says.

During 2023 and currently, the Livingston downtown revitalization efforts saw the establishment of Big Mikes’ headquarters on the Courthouse Square, the opening of Edna Grayce’s clothing store and Emily G Collection (home/decorating/interior design) downtown. The State Farm office and Twisted Tiger Nutrition also moved to the downtown square.

Also downtown, the Black Belt Development Center is in its final phase of renovations to provide business incubator spaces, workforce and professional development training, economic and community development offices, and event and exhibit space.

University Charter School, established on the campus of the University of West Alabama in 2018, has been a huge success. The school currently has 690 students in PK-12 grades, says Dr. JJ Wedgworth, founding CEO and head of the school.

The school began with all grades housed in Lyon Hall, but just recently, the school opened the $25 million USC Smith Campus to house grades 4-12. The new campus is named after the late Justin L. Smith, a Sumter County native, who served on the UWA Board of Trustees and helped create the vision for the school. There are already fundraising efforts in place to expand the new campus to place all students under one roof, adding classrooms, an elementary playground, dedicated career tech learning space and more.

The school has several student workforce initiatives aimed at providing practical experience and skill development. Those include BrewCS, a student-run, school-based coffee shop open to the community each day during school week. This shop provides hands-on experience in entrepreneurship, customer service and business management. This project was launched by gifted and talented program students in 2020 and has expanded to offer work-based learning experience to junior and senior students in the last two years.

Students in the business information technology program developed and implemented a business plan for a concession trailer, providing hands-on experience in marketing, finance and operations management. This spring, students worked with a Birmingham restaurateur and developed an ice cream business that has been featured at community and school events.

For students interested in the health sciences, junior and senior level students can earn certifications in various health care fields such as certified nursing assistant, patient care technician and electrocardiogram technician.

The school has a cooperative education program, where students can gain real-world skills and insights in their chosen fields, employed with local businesses. The school also offers a general agriculture program and FFA competitions.

This article appears in the June 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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