JOBS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
When I took office on November 7, 2016, the unemployment rate in Florence was 7.3%. Just before the pandemic hit, Florence was at 2.8%, the lowest unemployment that research has recorded. Since my taking office, Florence had issued 446 new business licenses, including over 200 home-based businesses, equating to more than 2,596 new jobs. In the next term, I will once again make it a priority to create jobs for our citizens. Even with the challenges faced in 2020, since January we have still added 335 new jobs and 53 new businesses in Florence.
The success of our job market will mean we need to locate additional land for more industrial growth. With your help, I will continue to pursue business investments from every category possible.
When you look around, hopefully you can still see the growth and feel the momentum. The community outlook remains positive – and we plan to keep it going!
Bandwidth is our interstate connection to the world, and we have to be proactive in developing a network that meets our needs and not wait for someone else, because that may never happen. We may be low on the list for Comcast or AT&T because we don't have the numbers. It's just an economic reality. So we have to be forward-thinking and take action now to begin developing a network for Florence.
We have an opportunity to develop a fiber network throughout the Shoals. Working together we can build and expand wireless technology and a fiber capacity that will enable us to compete with any community in the digital economy. Not only do we recognize the importance of bandwidth for local businesses, but we know that it is vitally important for each of our citizens as well. We must insure bandwidth is put in place to meet our growing needs.
We looked at numerous cities and their different models for delivering bandwidth, then visited several to look at their structure and see what they have already done locally. We further visited with several consultants in varying areas of expertise to determine how best to meet the challenge for our own city. Important decisions are ahead. We will take the time to make wise decisions, yet we will not slow in our pursuit to see this quickly achieved for our citizens and businesses.
IMPROVING OUR ROADS
The city ranks its street conditions from 1-10, with 10 being the most needy for attention. For the previous fiscal year, we resurfaced all of our streets with a ranking of 10 with an expenditure of $1.5 million. This year we will begin resurfacing our streets that rank 9, and we have allocated $2 million in this current budget for paving of streets. We will continue to fund our paving program at this level for several years.
In addition to our $1.5 million of paving our 10s, and in partnership with the state Department of Transportation, we resurfaced Mall Road and Hough Road with addition of a new traffic control. We also completed the Roundabout Project in East Florence, as well as completed College Street resurfacing.
Many people were pleased when we opened the paved connector between Sam’s Club and Target. We further completed an emergency project at Darby Drive and Decatur Avenue to replace a culvert at $1.25 million. The next major project with DOT will be on Rickwood Road at Helton Drive to Chisholm Road.
The streetscaping to Dr. Hicks Boulevard and College Street will be completed. River Heritage Trail is also budgeted for construction this fiscal year.
Our Legislative delegation and Lauderdale County have secured a grant to make it possible to six-lane Highway 72 from Indian Springs Road to the Shoal Creek Bridge area. This will greatly improve Florence traffic flow.
EMPHASIS ON EDUCATION & CAREER TECH TRAINING
Ongoing challenges for our schools, the teachers and students as they navigate new methods of learning with respect to Covid-19 must be met with our fullest support.
As classes resume, two directions which continue to need focus in K-12 Education are career-tech training and promoting dual enrollment with Northwest Shoals and UNA to allow students to get college credit.
It is critical for the future of Florence that we develop and maintain career-tech training programs to fill the jobs which are available, and the additional jobs we intend to bring to this city.
Companies of all sizes require skilled maintenance people, yet we seem to be training tomorrow’s workers for everything else. Florence needs more welders, brick masons, dry wallers, carpenters, and skilled workers in other various careers.
We should promote every skilled trade possible in our local high schools, so that before students are even out of school they can get a few years of training. This needs to continue into community colleges so that students are receiving the instruction they need to have great careers ahead of them. These same students can go on to UNA to acquire bachelor’s degrees, enabling them to have both sides of the equation to start their own successful businesses.
Career technical training must become an educational priority at the high school level, and on into post secondary levels. With a well-trained workforce in our market, this will in turn give us an added tool to recruit new companies which require the skilled labor force we will be able to supply.
Opportunities for dual enrollment can make a difference in the lives of students, and ultimately make a difference in our community. Students can earn college credit hours while in high school, kickstarting them on their college career paths. Having such credit hours gets them that much closer, that much faster, to their educational commencement goals. By participating in the dual credit / dual enrollment program, a student can have almost a full year behind them. It can also enable them to complete those hours with a cost savings on tuition and fees.
Obviously, we must also pay attention to competitive pay for our educators. We must insure that we keep excellent teachers, and that we don't lose them to other markets. The teachers in our community are training the citizens of our city. They are our frontline to the future we can expect to see for Florence. It has been said: “Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions.” That is entirely true. We must recognize and respect the level of importance this conveys.
In addition, making sure we have quality facilities for our schools will always be important. It’s difficult to focus on the lessons at hand if the environment in which students are expected to learn is not conducive to learning. All barriers which might limit a student’s ability to excel need to be removed. Mayor Holt wants to be certain we make all pathways to knowledge open for all students to reach their fullest potential.
We applaud Florence High School and Southwire Corporation for their partnership through the “12 For Life” program, as well as the new “Launch” program, allowing students to complete internships in careers of interest to them.
As an addendum, let us here also applaud Shoals Scholar Dollars for their efforts on behalf of our area’s students. More such partnerships and programs are needed.
Everyone can agree that we need to be eager to take care of those lives who dedicate their lives to taking care of us. Our Firefighters and Police Officers insure the safety and well-being of our city's citizens. In turn, as a city, we need to insure their needs are sufficiently met.
Our city steps up to the plate by offering exemplary training – and we must also insure that our best-trained professionals do not leave for better pay or benefits elsewhere.
When we invest in the training of the men and women of our police and fire units, we also need to invest enough into their salaries to keep them here.
Under Mayor Holt’s administration, there have been increases in pay and new equipment for our first responders with further investment needed and expected. There have also been commitments to renovate each of the five fire stations over the next five years and complete a renovation of the Florence Police Department over the next two years. Fire Station 1 and the lower level of the Police Department are already nearing completion.
Let’s insure that Florence is not only the city where our finest are well trained – but that it’s also where they stay to work – and stay to take care of us and our families. Our Fire, Police, and other safety officers deserve nothing less.
The 2020 Census is vitally important to Florence over the next 10 years. The Census, which is taken every 10 years, is more than just a head count. It determines how $675 billion will be spent supporting programs in communities all across our nation (approximately $1,600 per person).
The Census determines how federal money will be spent on roads, hospitals, school lunches, medicare, emergency services, food assistance, and many other important projects. It also guarantees that we maintain our 7 seats in Congress.
It is crucial that we receive a 100% head count. We've done videos in English and Spanish and have placed promotional materials into the community. We are working with UNA to insure an accurate head count there as well.
Click Here To Complete YOUR 2020 Census. Thank You!
FORMER ECM SITE
The former ECM hospital site has been rezoned to R1, single-family residential. Our City Planning Department has developed a conceptual plan that could be a unique opportunity for upscale senior housing. With 12 acres available, it may also turn into a business development project. It has the potential for a unique business development opportunity.
MUSIC AS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
For a long time our area had only one major studio. Now there are others. Some are coming back, and new startups have also opened. We continue to see renewed interest in our music industry. However, it is still very much an untapped resource for economic growth in our area. It is often taken for granted, and it both needs and deserves our attention to capitalize on all that it can truly become.
With the success of the Muscle Shoals documentary still lingering, we should take advantage of any opportunities afforded our market by this exceptional piece of work before it fades.
Per capita, our area has the best studio musicians you’ll find anywhere in the world. We’re now seeing second-generation musicians which are becoming just as popular as their gifted parents – and they’re choosing to stay here. We are blessed with an abundance of talent at our doorstep!
Success of Shoals Fest with Jason Isbell has been further indication that Florence has strong potential for tapping into Music for economic development.
Let’s keep asking the questions that can move us further forward in this arena. Can we attract more music-related startups? Can we attract music publishing companies, or perhaps instrument manufacturers? Are there ways we can work with songwriters to strengthen our development base? What appeals to the music community, and what do they need from our city to broaden their appeal beyond our market?
Mayor Holt would like to continue seeing Florence work with the strong music foundation we have to build an even greater voice across the industry. We are within the Americana Music Triangle between Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. He has spoken with songwriters and musicians who have tremendous ideas for drawing in additional talent, and for sending out even more works of musical genius from our area.
We have made calls, written letters, and sent representatives to ICSC International Council of Shopping Centers, and have done direct mail letters, all with a focus on business investment into Florence. We provide information to every inquiry. We work with SEDA, Shoals Chamber, Shoals Business Incubator, UNA, Florence Tourism, and commercial developers, local and out-of-market, all in an effort to generate investment and jobs.
We are recognizing local businesses for their growth and investment into our community. We celebrate with those businesses passing important milestones, and with each ribbon cutting we offer a certificate recognizing how many jobs were created by that new business.
Through the business recruitment coordinator position, created during Mayor Holt’s administration, Florence businesses are offered a One-Stop-Shop program where the city responds to a business looking to invest by having all services and departments together under one roof. In this way, companies don't have to gather information and forms from multiple offices, nor make many stops to inquire. Having access to everything all in one room makes it very easy for them to open for business in Florence. Additionally, letters are sent weekly to potential new businesses, and follow-up contacts are a top priority, as is checking in with businesses that may need assistance.
ANIMAL SERVICES FACILITY
The Animal Services facility has been built and is active. We have a brand new state-of-the-art 12,000 sq ft facility (the old one was 3,300 sq ft). The ventilation system continually recirculates to keep the air fresh. Keeping fresh air moving all the time is important for the health of the animals. The Animal Shelter boasts a large lobby and visitation rooms – so that, if you see a pet you're interested in, you can play with it for an hour in a comfortable space. There's a meeting room where some have even had birthday parties. Commercial washers and dryers are on site. This approximately $4 million project has become a showplace for the Florence area. In partnership with Lauderdale County, we look forward to taking advantage of the acreage there to accommodate large animals.
We successfully repurchased the former Florence Country Club and property from the Chinese business owner. This has enabled us to establish "The Club Senior Center" as a permanent location.
We have conducted annual city-wide clean up days. We have placed approximately 100 new cigarette butt receptacles in key areas to reduce visible waste.
We have expanded our recycling facilities. New equipment there has allowed us to go from 1 million to 4 million pounds per week.
We have been a gold level member of the valley's sustainable community program through TVA. We have achieved platinum status. To do that, we had to complete a carbon footprint for our city. We've updated our community's sustainability inventory. We are now one of only nine cities to hold the platinum status. There are only two in AL (Huntsville and Florence), and 7 in Tennessee.
We have committed to insuring the integrity of Florence's clean community. We have water treatment plants on Cypress Creek and on Wilson Lake. Clean water is something we work really hard to achieve alongside ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management).
We maintain our water quality at even higher standards than required by the EPA and ADEM.
With the addition of 22 acres at the corner of Cox Creek Pkwy and Jackson Rd as a buffer for our water intake at Cypress Creek, we have also turned that area into a nice place for canoeing and kayaking.