Thanking Those Who Represent Us
On Jan. 12, SAEC hosted the most recent Grow Southeast Alabama-sponsored Elected Officials Day, a luncheon to thank officials and update them on the status of economic development projects in the area.
“It is so important that we be involved with the community, and being able to have all of these bright minds under our roof is really an honor for SAEC,” says David Bailey, SAEC general manager.
Grow Southeast Alabama is an 11-county coalition for economic development. For Elected Officials Day, the organization invited local mayors, county commissioners, elected state representatives, senators and others representing those counties.
The counties represented by Grow Southeast Alabama are: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike.
The event took place in SAEC’s community room, and several elected officials — including Sens. Donnie Chesteen and Billy Beasley, Reps. Marcus Paramore, Berry Forte and Steve Clouse, and Secretary of State Wes Allen — were present.
“SAEC is very thankful for our strong local and state government representation. We are proud to support these legislators, and this luncheon is just one small way we can show our appreciation for all the progress we’ve seen in this area and the progress we know is going to come,” Bailey says.
Melody Lee, executive director of Grow Southeast Alabama, hopes this remains an annual event.
“This is our way of both updating legislators and recapping the last year’s progress, but it’s also thanking them for going to bat in economic development situations to get extra funding. They’ve been phenomenal to our organization over the last several years,” Lee says.
David Padgett, president of Grow Southeast Alabama, has been involved with the organization for the last two years. He has also served as the economic development director for Bullock County since 2019. Before that, he served on the county economic development board for 12 years.
As someone who has always called Bullock County home, Padgett knows about area’s struggles with finding good-paying jobs. He believes Grow Southeast Alabama is important because it joins smaller counties with the resources of larger ones.
“My goal is to help employ and give citizens of Bullock County a better choice of jobs to work. For example, if an industry relocated to Troy and it’s a 30-minute drive, that’s great. In reality, it just pools the resources of all the counties and workforces of this area, and it builds a cohesive message for Grow Southeast Alabama,” he says.
Economic development goals for the coming year were also discussed during the meeting. Among the attendees who spoke was Alex Cate, the director of entrepreneurship for the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.
In 2022, the Huntsville-based institute partnered with the city of Dothan to create HudsonAlpha Wiregrass. Its focus is genomics education, the study of DNA within organisms and humans, agricultural research and economic development.
“Specifically, this will help local farmers create stronger crops, like peanuts and cotton, that are more resistant to droughts and other factors. This is not genetic modification, but it’s achieved through studying genomics and DNA,” Lee says.
HudsonAlpha Wiregrass is also developing an education division in local high schools to spark an interest in students who love science, with the hope they can remain closer to home.
“Formerly if you worked in those fields you had to go to a large city to do so,” Lee says. “We would lose a ton of local students and potential workers because they would leave the area. So, not only will this will help our farmers, but it will help us retain those bright minds so they have a future in the Wiregrass area.”
Lee says electric cooperatives, especially SAEC, are important to economic development.
“Our utility partners really are the back-bone of our organization. They are fantastic about serving on our board and helping guide us, but they’re phenomenal about getting us resources,” Lee says. “They’re always on board with our plans and they’re as excited about economic growth as the developers are. We literally could not do it without them.”
When it comes to ensuring economic growth for Southeast Alabama, Padgett considers it an honor. “I want to see advancement and better opportunities for people in my home county, and I take a lot of pride in helping build this brick-by-brick and seeing the little things we’ve implemented make a difference,” Padgett says.
From left, Secretary of State Wes Allen; SAEC General Manager David Bailey and Rep. Marcus Paramore visit during the Elected Officials Day luncheon.