Residents' desires for Anniston in line with officials' goals, efforts, surveys show
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Oct 30, 2013 | 3477 views |  0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Residents' ideas to improve Anniston, from expanding workforce development to strengthening police protection, appear to match city officials' goals and efforts, recent surveys show.

At the Wednesday meeting for One City, One Vision, the community initiative tasked with developing a strategic plan for Anniston, organizers learned the results of three surveys of city residents performed earlier this year. The results, compiled from 2,700 answers from hundreds of residents, showed that workforce education, economic development, police protection and transportation were among the top areas that needed improvement before the city could grow. Some city officials say those areas are on the top of their agendas and are trying to make them better.

"I think they're valid and those community priorities are right in line with what the council has prioritized," said Mayor Vaughn Stewart, who attended the meeting.

According to the surveys, education was at the top in most respondents' minds, with 29 percent making comments about improvements in the city education system. Specifically, most surveyed said increased workforce development was key to improving the city.

The second most commented topic at 22 percent was economic development. Incidentally, many respondents said improving workforce training would strengthen economic development and in turn improve the city.

Stewart agreed that workforce development is essential to growing the local economy and jobs. Stewart said he and other city leaders and officials are working on ways to partner the Anniston school system with Gadsden State Community College, which offers various industrial and technology-based workforce training programs.

"That will be huge for this area," Stewart said.

During a Wednesday phone interview, Don Hopper, executive director of Calhoun County Economic Development Council, said better workforce training would help his organization lure more industry to the area.

"A trainable workforce is what companies are looking for," Hopper said. "The better we train our workforce is a tremendous development for the future."

Many survey respondents also said continued focus on developing McClellan was an important part of improving Anniston overall.

Hopper noted that his organization recently helped McClellan earn the title of an AdvantageSite, a state designation that proves to industries the area is ready for development. Hopper also said that Calhoun County and all its municipalities earlier this year committied a total of $1.84 million for infrastructure improvements at McClellan, which should make it more enticing to industries.

"It's happening and progress is being made," Hopper said of McClellan development.

The survey showed 17 percent of respondents were interested in city transportation improvements, particularly in the bus system, such as expanded hours and shorter routes.

Stewart said he and the council have been looking into the issue, realizing that many low-income residents depend on the bus system as their main means of transportation. Stewart said he recently met with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, which oversees the bus program in the city.

"We met to see about extending service hours and improving routes," Stewart said. "We've got to make sure we're meeting people's needs."

Residents surveyed also wanted to see improvements in the Anniston Police Department, including more diversity among officers and better response times to incidents.

Anniston Police Chief Shane Denham said during a Wednesday phone interview that his department seeks out minorities for employment whenever possible.

"Under our civil service system, if an applicant is black and he meets the basic qualifications, he moves to the top of our list," Denham said. "It doesn't mean he will be hired, but he'll be looked at first."

Denham noted, however, that the department receives few minority applicants and even a smaller number meet the basic qualifications for employment.

"Generally, we have one to three minority candidates to look at when we're hiring," he said.

Denham said he felt his department had good response times. However, the department is actively trying to improve them, he said.

"Something we're talking about now is how we can respond to crimes in progress a little bit faster," Denham said.

Also during the meeting, the group outlined its next community meeting called The Summit. The event, scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Anniston City Meeting Center, will give residents the opportunity to list ways to achieve the goals listed in the previous surveys. After they are compiled, the goals and the ways to achieve them will be weaved into the city's long-term strategic plan.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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