HERE’S HOW THE NUMBERS ENDED UP FOR MONTGOMERY AND MONTGOMERY COUNTY LAST YEAR AND WHERE OUR LEADERS BELIEVE WE ARE HEADED IN 2017.
At the close of each year, we all pause to take stock of where we’ve been and begin to chart a course for the next year, a plan to help get us where we want to be (or at least closer to that destination). Our city and county leaders do the same, and when Mayor Todd Strange and our city council, along with County Commission Chair Elton Dean and his fellow commissioners, tallied up the vital stats for our region, all the numbers pointed to a robust, healthy 2016 and an even healthier 2017 headed our way. Here’s the Mayor’s take:
MBJ: WHAT’S THE BIG PICTURE FOR LAST YEAR?
MAYOR STRANGE: Our numbers are going up across the board. Sales tax revenues have consistently grown since 2010, and they’re higher again this year. Since 40 percent of our total revenue comes from sales tax, that’s important. We’ve also built back our reserves. We closed the book on 2016 with more than $22 million in that fund, which gets us to a major goal: to have 10 percent of our annual operating budget in reserves. Plus, we fully expect that reve-nues will continue to remain positive in 2017 as we have had even more success in job recruitment and economic development.
MBJ: WHAT SECTORS ARE SHOWING THE MOST GROWTH?
MAYOR STRANGE: Our sports travel keeps growing with high school sports championships and tournaments, coaches meetings, events like the Firefighters Challenge and the Camellia Bowl all coming here. One example: Getting the International Horseshoe Pitching Championship may not sound like much, but it brought 2,000 people here for two weeks, each an average age of 55 with a lot of disposable income. The annual Firefighters Challenge draws thousands here, folks from all over country and world. And Appalachian State came back to the Camellia Bowl in 2016. They were here in 2015 and wanted to come back. They could have gone somewhere else. That speaks volumes. All this travel is driving the addition of hotel rooms.
Our IT sector is growing too. I see it as having amazing potential, particularly the Montgomery Internet Exchange. Its goal is to connect every person, every household, every business and every device to the rest of the world at the speed of light. It will bring internet service providers, content providers, etc. who want to run through this exchange.
MBJ: WHAT ARE THE MAIN POSITIVES DRIVING GROWTH AND SUCCESS HERE?
MAYOR STRANGE: Success breeds success. We always point out that we were named “Best Historic City” by USA Today Travel. We are an “All American City.” Both of these awards are important. And of the 42 increases in investment and employment last year, 37 are existing companies, so that shows they have a lot of confidence and trust in the community by making the decision to grow here.
MBJ: WHAT ARE THE CITY’S 2017 GOALS?
MAYOR STRANGE: It is crucial that we have and maintain the infrastructure and venues that allow the Chamber, the Central Alabama Sports Commission and individual hotels to go after convention, leisure travel and sports travel business. We also try to ensure that when they do come here, they have a good experience. We see it time and time again, someone at a convention goes home and raves about it, and we get the opportunity for another convention.
CONDITIONS IN THE COUNTY
Montgomery County Commissioner Elton Dean’s thoughts on the past and future.
MBJ: HOW WOULD YOU RATE 2016 IN TERMS OF GROWTH AND PROSPERITY FOR THE COUNTY?
COMMISSIONER DEAN: Each year, the county sees financial improvements from the previous year. During the economic downturn several years ago, we worked together as a team to streamline our budget and make sound economic decisions for the citizens’ tax dollars.
MBJ: WHAT DO YOU SEE IN STORE FOR THE COUNTY FOR 2017?
COMMISSIONER DEAN: We will continue to focus on providing the su-perior services that our citizens have come to expect from Montgomery County. We look to hire an independent contractor that will work with minority- and women-owned businesses in the county and show them how they can participate in the county’s bidding process. We will continue to partner with the city and Chamber to bring good jobs to our area.
A FIRM HANDSHAKE
The City of Montgomery and Montgomery County have long enjoyed a strong, friendly working relationship. It’s something many take for granted but is by no means the norm in municipal government, as Mayor Todd Strange explained.
“We have a fairly unique situation in Montgom-ery County as we have one major metropolitan center, Montgomery, then smaller communi-ties,” he said.
As opposed to some other counties in the state, the city and county officials see the two entities as almost one and the same. And Mayor Strange’s experiences before becoming mayor bring another layer to the partnership. “I was chairman of the Montgomery County Commission for five years and was chairman of the Montgomery Chamber, so I understand the capacity and capabilities of both,” he said.
That makes it even easier for the city and coun-ty to work together. “We don’t have to negotiate economic incentive packages because we are on the same page,” he said. “Elton [Dean] and I are kinda joined at the hip. We are both very aware of what the other is doing.”
Thanks to multiple joint projects in the past, the two have a deep understanding of how and why working together benefits everyone, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. “We have faced challenges and had disagreements, but, overall, we all know that when you combine resources, you get increased efficiency at lower costs for our citizens.”
Russ Tyner, one of the Chamber’s past chairmen, agreed. “One of the major positives of our current business climate is cooperation,” he said. “The unprecedented teamwork between county and city leadership and the business community makes Montgomery a somewhat unique business environment. When you add the intellectual horsepower of local military leadership and the influence of a well-run Chamber, Montgomery becomes a diverse and absolutely unique business community.”