In the mid-1990s, a group of people began meeting with the goal of forming a countywide economic development organization in Marshall County. Actually, the story goes back a little further. Even back in the 1980s, progressive leaders had openly discussed the need for a countywide group. The first effort in the late 1980s failed for several reasons, the primary one being funding. At that time, each city had volunteer industrial development boards (IDB) and these boards, working in conjunction with the chambers of commerce helped develop and show industrial sites when the Alabama Development Office (ADO, now the Alabama Department of Commerce) brought a prospect to town.
This system worked well for many years and companies are still around from those times. Companies like Mueller in Albertville, Federal Mogul in Boaz and Synchro in Arab found Marshall County their home as a direct result of these efforts. Industrial parks like Mountain Crest in Guntersville, Albertville Industrial Park East and Sand Mountain Industrial Park were all developed by dedicated volunteers with a keen eye on the future.
But the announcement of Mercedes in 1993 changed everything in Alabama. The Yellowhammer State was in play and on the map! No longer could communities take a reactionary or wait-and-see approach to economic development. Around this time many communities began to stand up fully funded countywide EDAs. A group of leaders began meeting and developing a plan for a new organization that would help unify these efforts. Marshall County was coming together in more ways about that same time. It was in the mid 1990s that a countywide leadership program and a "united" United Way were also formed.
The challenge for any organization is sustained funding. This is nothing new to EDAs. Many are funded under contract with cities and counties. The problem is that they are subject to political changes and economic climate. Several organizations in Alabama that were formed about this time and funded in this manner, never got off the ground or folded a few years later. Some are funded privately, but that ensures that the staff and CEO are continuously fundraising and not focusing 100% of their efforts on economic development. Fortunately, the organizers of the MCEDC found a pro-business legislative delegation that completely supported their efforts. The late Senator Hinton Mitchem and former state representatives Frank McDaniel and Howard Hawk shared the vision that the organizers saw in a countywide economic development effort.
The result was funding through the TVA-In-Lieu-of-Taxes. It was stable, secure and less subject to political whims than other funding streams. Simply put, TVA-In-Lieu-of-Taxes is similar to what other utilities call franchise fees. It is analogous to what a private company would pay in property and corporate income taxes. The difference is that it is allocated by local legislation. Passage of that legislation in 1994 insured that the MCEDC would have stable, long-term funding and could begin to develop relationships and partnerships necessary to bring jobs to Marshall County.
Next: The MCEDC begins work and shows early results.
MCEDC: A Little History (Part 2 of 3)