Casually cruising along Alabama 21 or the Leon Smith Parkway, the transition is relatively seamless. One minute you’re in one city and the next you’re in another.
Far too often in the City Halls of both municipalities, the differences have been highlighted with sneers and mocking tones.
To the hungry and tired out-of-state driver along Interstate 20, there really is no distinction. With restaurants, retail and motels within sight, Exit 188 is merely an inviting place to take a break from driving. Are drivers in Oxford? Are they in Anniston? Do they care?
One-hundred miles away, the distinctions begin to fade away. Pull back 1,000 miles or even an ocean away and there is no difference between the two cities.
Let’s suppose a large employer is looking to open a facility in east Alabama. The list of questions for local officials will be long. How are the public schools? What tax incentives can you offer? How are the roads? Is there a crime problem? Is there an attractive cultural life? Can local governments work well together?
The answers matter, to the potential employer and to the various cities in the region. If the cities can work together, all can benefit. Yes, the employer will locate in only one city, but the benefits will flow to the entire region.
The good news is that this point was emphasized last week during municipal candidate forums in Oxford and Anniston.
During Thursday’s Oxford forum at the Quintard Mall, mayoral candidate Cristy Humphries said, “As economic developers are looking and site selectors determine where they want to locate, they are not looking at one solitary city.” She added, “They are looking at one area, a region willing to work together to build their community and to build their county.”
This isn’t high school football, where one city’s team wins and the other city’s team loses. Land a big employer that pays good wages for high-tech jobs and everyone wins, regardless of where ground is broken for a new facility. The employees and their families will live, shop and recreate across the region, building up local governments’ tax bases along the way.
To torture our football metaphor a little more, however, economic development requires the type of recruiting that would make Nick Saban proud, active and aggressive selling of a region’s assets.
Humphries made the point Thursday when she mentioned her “contacts” with economic development agencies in the region and the state.
Anniston mayoral candidate Vaughn Stewart said much the same at Tuesday’s forum at the City Meeting Center. The key economic development institutions in Alabama “will know me by my first name within 30 days of being your mayor,” Stewart said. “I will be there. I will be the chief saleperson for Anniston.”
Humphries and Stewart weren’t alone, either. No one at either forum argued for building walls between communities. The real challenge before city governments following the Aug. 28 elections is tearing down the old stacks of bricks dividing us. Then our newly elected can start building a new path to greater prosperity.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or email@example.com. Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.